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The Mysteries of Aging: Paul F. Glenn


Aside from his interest in the biology of aging, Paul also has a great passion for foreign plants. His company, Cycad Group, is named after one of his particular favorite plant families. Aside from his interest in the biology of aging, Paul also has a great passion for foreign plants. His company, Cycad Group, is named after one of his particular favorite plant families.

If you ask Paul Glenn how he became interested in the biology of aging, he will tell you that it started for very personal reasons. When he was 20, he watched the swift decline in his grandparents’ health. He was struck by how vision and hearing loss, compounded by additional aging-related diseases, caused such a severe decline in the quality of life.

In 1965, Glenn established the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, a non-profit foundation devoted to supporting basic research in the molecular biology of aging and age-related diseases. The Foundation has been a leader in funding basic research in the science of aging for more than 40 years. In 2008, Glenn pledged $5 million over five years to establish the Glenn Laboratory for the Science of Aging, directed by Professor Leonard Guarente, a pioneer in the biology of aging.

Shortly after his grandparents’ passing, Glenn read Thomas S. Gardner’s article in Parade Magazine on the biology of aging. Gardner presented the idea that human lifespan was not fixed, and we might be able to control the aging process. But, it cautioned, these problems must be solved at the molecular level. In the early 1950s, tools for studying molecular biology were just beginning to develop, and Glenn “was struck by the great potential.”

Glenn soon discovered that he was in a prime position to learn more about the biology of aging. While working for his congressman on Capitol Hill in 1951, he learned that Gardner was working in a lab near Princeton, where Glenn was a student. Upon returning to school, he immediately went to see Gardner. He introduced Glenn to more colleagues in the field who put him in touch with Florence Mahoney—a woman who would become Glenn’s friend and a great influence on the direction of his efforts. Mrs. Mahoney was a well-known health advocate who, together with philanthropist Mary Woodward Lasker, was instrumental in the growth of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at a time when government funding for research was considered controversial.

After Glenn’s initial gift to MIT in 2005, Glenn has decided to increase the level of his giving because, as he says, “Lenny (Guarente) is a very creative scientist, and I believe that great things will continue to come from his lab.” He has committed $1 million a year for the next five years.  After this initial $5 million, he plans to re-evaluate his support. “I want to build a permanent relationship with MIT” he says, “for my foundation and for me personally”

Paul F. Glenn is the chairman and a director of Cycad Group, a venture capital firm in Santa Barbara, California. After spending several years on Wall Street, Glenn entered the world of private equity and venture capital, where he became an early stage investor in a number of companies that have gone public or have been acquired by public companies. Glenn holds a BA with high honors from Princeton and a JD from Harvard Law School.