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Longevity Briefs: The Role of Autophagy in Human Disease

Posted on 20 October 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Types of autophagy. Source – DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2022774

Why is this research important: Autophagy is derived from the latin words ‘auto’ and ‘phagy’, which translates to ‘self-eating’. It is a process through which parts of the cell are broken down and degraded. This is crucial for a myriad of functions that help maintain a healthy organism, including: stem cell maintenance, immune response and tissue development, just to name a few.

Autophagy is a molecular mechanism that has been preserved throughout evolution and that can be observed in almost every eukaryotic organism, from yeast to mammals, and even plants. It has also been heavily associated with human disease and is one of the most actively researched processes in geroscience.

What did the researchers do: A review published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at what part autophagy plays in human disease, mainly focussing on neurodegenerative disease and cancer. It also discusses how we might manipulate autophagy as a therapeutic strategy to treat these diseases.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The process of autophagy is crucially important in disease, as genetic studies have shown strong evidence the alterations to autophagy genes cause a number of diseases in humans. However, one of the biggest hurdles we face in this field of research is that we do not yet have an effective way to measure autophagy activity.

Autophagy, and its impacts on various disease processes in humans. Source – DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2022774

The authors conclude

“Progress in assessing the role that autophagy in human disease and their treatment relies heavily on the development of methods for monitoring autophagic activity in humans.”

Autophagy in Human Diseases. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra2022774

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