Investigator Profile: Rafael Arrojo e Drigo
NIH NIDDK Gateway Investigator Recipient
►Where are you from originally, and where did you go to school?
I am from Sao Paulo, Brazil. I got my B.S. in Biology at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie and my Ph.D. in Endocrinology at Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo (UNIFESP).
►What is your current position?
Research Assistant Professor in the Molecular Physiology and Biophysics Department at Vanderbilt University.
►Why did you decide to become a researcher?
I first considered research as a career in college. I was very lucky to have great teachers that supported my interest in cell biology and tissue physiology very early on. During my second year in school, my human physiology teacher connected me to a lab in the US, which then gave me the chance to visit them every other winter break and experience life in the lab and gain basic research experience. I would later join this same lab for my Ph.D. several years later.
►What is the “Big Picture” of what you study?
By combining different high-resolution microscopy platforms, we found a way to quantify the age of virtually any cell in situ. That led to the discovery of cells in somatic tissues are remarkably long-lived and have limited turnover rates during their lifetime. We also found that many of these cells were as old as neurons in the brain. Now my laboratory wants to understand how long-lived cells achieve and maintain their largely post-mitotic state from a structural and functional point of view, and how these cells and longevity mechanisms are impacted by aging and disease.
►What is your favorite aspect of your research?
That I can use an array of technologies (sometimes in a correlative manner) to dissect different aspects of cell and tissue physiology.
► What do you hope to achieve with your research?
In the long-term, I think that we could reverse engineer the mechanisms that support extreme cellular longevity and find ways to preserve and/or regenerate long-lived cell function in tissues impacted by aging and age-related diseases.
► What groups are you involved with?
In addition to my role as a PI at Vanderbilt, I am a fellow in the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) at the University of California San Diego (UCSD); and I am a member of the Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC) at Vanderbilt.
►When not in the lab what are your favorite hobbies/activities?
Whenever I am not in the lab, I like to spend time with my family. Nashville has a fantastic number of parks and trails that are beautiful to hike and enjoy, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing color. I also enjoy playing guitar and online gaming (Stellaris is my current go-to game).