UOW researchers find oxygen contributes to ageing

Scientist Colin Cortie is on a mission to discover how fats and oxygen lead to ageing. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Scientist Colin Cortie is on a mission to discover how fats and oxygen lead to ageing. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Halting the ageing process has long been the pursuit of cosmetics companies, scientists and women worried about wrinkles, but could it be that the oxygen keeping us alive is also shortening our lifespan?

University of Wollongong PhD student Colin Cortie is on a mission to discover the secret to a long life, investigating how fats, or lipids, in our cells lead to ageing.

The 29-year-old has spent the past two years examining how lipids cause free radical damage - a process associated with cell damage, ageing and diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer.

Mr Cortie's research has found that oxygen, while central to keeping us alive, could also be ageing us.

"It's a bit of a paradox really," he said.

"Oxidative damage is a common consequence of breathing in oxygen and using it to produce energy but it's also associated with a lot of diseases and with ageing."

The biology student, who is one of the first scientists in the world to examine the effect of oxidative damage on human tissue, is also looking at how diet influences ageing.

His research, involving looking at the lifespan of difference species, has revealed that omega-3 fats, found most commonly in seafood, have a big part to play.

"Omega-3 fats are well known as being necessary for healthy human function but they can also be easily damaged," he said.

"It's a trade-off - we've found that humans need to have a minimum amount of omega-3 to function but too much can lead to ageing; the more of these fats you have, the more problems you have."

Mr Cortie, who has been conducting his research from the university's Lipid Research Centre, is hopeful his work will one day go global.

"Ageing is such a universal thing and it's something we've never been able to understand," Mr Cortie said.

"This kind of research doesn't have an easy application but I'm hoping it's the first step to understanding what is going on with our cells, what ageing really is and how we can stop it."

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