Bogota, Sep 19 (EFE).- Colombian neurophysiologist Rodolfo Llinas, who has dedicated his career to studying the brain, is investigating autophagy in neurons, a process linked to old age, which could help scientists discover ways to lengthen life expectancy and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
“Autophagy is a complex intercellular system that cleans cells, and if it doesn’t work, then we start ageing. So that is the key to not growing old,” Llinas said during an interview with EFE in Bogota, where he graduated from medical school at the Xavierian University in 1959.
Dr. Llinas, who will turn 84 in December and has dedicated most of his life to studying the intrinsic properties of neurons at several universities in Australia and the United States, is participating this week in a summit on education in the Colombian capital.
“We are currently studying autophagy. Old age is a problem linked to autophagy. We are referring to the microorganisms that damage our cells and lead us to grow old,” the neurophysiologist said.
Llinas, who formed the team that headed NASA’s 1998 Neurolab mission, bases his autophagy research on squids, an animal that, as he explains, “has a giant synapse,” which is ideal not only to understand how the connections between neurons work, but also to see how they “malfunction.”
“I was studying the squid last week and I am continuing to carry out research on it, because it has a giant synapse. The synapse is the union between two neurons and that union has a large number of incredible properties that were unknown, many of which I discovered,” the scientist said, who is currently a professor at New York University’s School of Medicine.
According to Llinas, the research on autophagy has nothing to do with the search for eternal youth, “though it is interesting because it could lead to longer life expectancy,” explaining why it is so important “to see how it works” and if drugs could be developed to treat diseases linked to ageing.
“This research is just beginning,” the scientist said.