The Future of Research – Karl Rodriguez, Ph.D.
By Ginger Hall Carnes
Lured by the renowned Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies and the biomedical potential in San Antonio, Karl Rodriguez, Ph.D., brought his Harvard University bachelor’s degree back to his hometown.
The 1988 John Marshall High School valedictorian returned to San Antonio to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees from UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Rodriguez originally gravitated toward science in middle school while working in the lab of his father, Paul H. Rodriguez, at UT San Antonio.
Dr. Rodriguez, assistant professor of cell systems and anatomy in the Long School of Medicine, is funded through a nationally competitive five-year K99/R00 “Kangaroo” Career Development award from the National Institute on Aging. It provided funding for two years of post-doctoral work and supports three additional years of research. Dr. Rodriguez, now in a tenure-track faculty position, also received generous start-up funding from the Barshop Institute and the Department of Cell Systems and Anatomy.
His research concentrates on gerontology, aging and the older population. “It’s a new frontier in biomedical research that needs better understanding especially due to the increased population of older people in this country,” said Dr. Rodriguez.
The Barshop Institute is internationally known for aging research. It is the only institution in the U.S. to house both a Nathan Shock Center on the Biology of Aging to support basic research and a Pepper Center to support translational aging research. “It’s an amazing institution. We can study everything from basic research where we discover potential biomarkers of aging and then translate these findings into the development of potential therapeutic outcomes for older people,” he explained.
Dr. Rodriguez is using the naked mole rat, which although mouse-sized lives up to 32 years (equivalent to a 90-year-old human), to look for fundamental mechanisms that might explain why humans get neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Specifically, Dr. Rodriguez said he has found some potential biomarkers that affect protein quality during aging. In his lab, he uses the C. elegans worm model system to find out the biological mechanism of these genes. He will look at how they fit into the physiology of the animal as a whole and influence longevity. Then he will examine similar genes in mouse, mole-rat, and human cells to see if their functions hold true even in humans. “We want to find out what is causing proteins in older animals and humans to fail, ultimately triggering the cells to die,” he said.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R00AG049940.