Andrea Lynn Marat
Leibniz Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie, Germany
Helping cells dispose of toxic "garbage"
Cells, like your local municipality, need to get rid of garbage to function efficiently. This involves passing unwanted material across cell membranes for collection and disposal. But when the molecular system that regulates this biochemical debris is out of order, the consequences can be devastating.
McGill University graduate Dr. Andrea Lynn Marat, now a post-doctoral fellow in Berlin, is investigating how this membrane trafficking process – called autophagy or "self-eating" – begins to malfunction and cause cellular damage as we get older, contributing to conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and immunological disorders. Her project is examining how this system recognizes "bad" toxic proteins and how it knows to transport this cargo to the molecular trash bin.
This relatively unknown field of research moved into the global spotlight in 2013 when the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three scientists who discovered the molecular principles that govern how trafficking occurs inside cells.
"It's exciting that the field of cellular trafficking is finally starting to get recognized," says Dr. Marat. "If we can figure out the real fundamental nuts and bolts of autophagy at the molecular level, then it becomes possible to identify small molecules that could either inhibit or activate the process which could become potential drug targets for various diseases."
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