Gauthami Balagopal

Mentor: Dr. Christiaan Leeuwenburgh
College of Medicine
"As someone hoping to pursue a career in medicine, it was my strong desire to get involved in the scientific community as early as possible and have a strong foundation in the research field. I was fascinated by the possiblilty that my work could potentially contribute to science."


Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience



Research Interests

  • Autophagy and Aging
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases
  • Clinical Psychology

Academic Awards

  • University Scholars Program
  • Howard Hughs Medical Institute (HHMI) Science For Life Award
  • Howard Hughs Medical Institute (HHMI) Science For Life Publication Award
  • Bright Futures Scholarship


  • Health Outreach and Quality Improvement Organization
  • Mobile Outreach Clinic


  • Mobile Outreach Clinic Volunteer and Board Member
  • Camp Boggy Creek Camp Counselor
  • Physician Shadowing

Hobbies and Interests

  • Yoga
  • Music
  • Running
  • Art

Research Description

Reveratrol and Rapamycin Mediated Autophagy Induction

The process of aging triggers a variety of physiological and biological changes, which include the gradual decline in cardiac function. Mitochondrial dysfunction and increased oxidative stress contribute to the deterioration of cardiomyocytes and heart function with old age. Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to an increase in reactive oxygen species formation and release of pro-apoptotic factors and ultimately trigger cell death or apoptosis. There is however a natural metabolic process for the removal of damaged mitochondria known as autophagy. However, advanced age is known to make the process of autophagy less efficient and even insufficient to maintain healthy cell function and growth, certainly on stressful conditions to the heart. A recent focus of aging research is on the efficacy of drugs and natural compounds to up-regulate autophagy. One such compound that is potentially important is resveratrol, which is a plant polyphenol and another is an FDA approved drug, Rapamycin, an immunosuppressant to prevent organ transplant rejection. Preliminary pilot tests have been conducted to understand the respective and combinational effects of the two on autophagy induction and suggest the need for further data on dose response studies and starvation studies in order to obtain maximum effect and more relevant data. Therefore the aims of this project are: Aim 1: Optimize the effect of resveratrol and Rapamycin in the induction of autophagy by conducting positive control experiments (cell media amino acid starvation) and compare with dose response studies of the two compounds. Aim 2: Conduct pre-treatment and post-treatment studies to understand the protective effects of these treatments as a response to oxidative stressors. These aims are the extensions of our preliminary studies that will give us more insight into the mechanisms of autophagy induction specifically in the AC-16 human cardiomyocyte cell line.