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Paola Timiras, 1923 - 2008

Researcher studied aging

September 23, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Paola Timiras, a medical doctor and researcher who pioneered the study of the physiology of aging and taught molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley for more than 50 years, died Sept. 12 at the end of a full day's work. She was 85.

The cause was heart failure, according to a statement on the UC Berkeley website.

"She was one of the foremost physiologists of aging," her colleague Judith Campisi said last week. Rather than concentrate on a particular illness associated with older age, "Paola took a holistic approach," Campisi said. "She never viewed aging as a simple process. It affects every system in the body."

When Timiras entered the field in the 1950s, scientists tended to see aging as a form of illness. She wanted to understand what causes "healthy aging," she said. She saw genetics and good nutrition as leading factors, but for some years she concentrated on the effects of hormones.

She called attention to the negative effect of stress hormones and, despite recent controversy about estrogen replacement treatments for post-menopausal women, she favored it.

"Paola was pro-estrogen for its protective effect on the brain," Campisi said, "with the caveat that there are women at risk for breast cancer who should not take estrogen."

Timiras wrote and edited more than a dozen books. Her most important work is "Physiological Basis of Aging and Geriatrics," which is in its fourth edition. She was a contributor and edited the book.

Although Timiras did not make major breakthroughs in the study of aging, Campisi said, she acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. For some years she taught a course at UC Berkeley on the complex factors involved in the aging process.

In a 2000 interview with the Berkeley Scientific Journal, Timiras was asked her opinion about medical predictions that soon the average person will live to be 100 or older. "I certainly believe it is possible," she said. "The question is, is it desirable?

"The goal is not primarily to extend the human life span. In my opinion, humans should live for as long as they are in good health."

Born Paola Silvestri on July 21, 1923, in Rome, she graduated from the medical school of the University of Rome in 1947, one year after she had married Nicholas Timiras, a Romanian-born diplomat. The couple moved to Montreal, where she earned a doctorate in experimental medicine and surgery from the University of Montreal in 1952.

Timiras and her husband relocated to the United States in 1954, and she taught at the University of Utah Medical School for one year before joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 1955.

She continued teaching and doing lab work as a professor emeritus, starting in 1994.

Timiras is survived by a daughter, Mary Letitia Timiras, of New Jersey; and a son, Paul, of California. Her husband died in 1996.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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