News Release

SMU professor wins $1.8M NIH award to study how our bodies may work to repair damaged components in cells

How ‘quality control pathways’ work together could lead to new therapy for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer

Grant and Award Announcement

Southern Methodist University

Dr. Zhihao Wu

image: Dr. Zhihao Wu, professor of biological sciences at SMU view more 

Credit: SMU (Southern Methodist University)

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU biology professor Zhihao Wu has received a $1.8 million, 5-year Maximizing Investigators' Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institutes of Health to determine if different quality control pathways in our bodies might be working together to repair damaged components in cells.

Answering that question could help researchers figure out why breakdowns in seemingly unrelated quality control pathways lead to some of the same abnormal changes that have been identified with many human diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, Type II diabetes and cancer. Understanding how this happens could lead to new therapeutic targets for the pathological hallmarks that are known to cause or worsen these diseases.

“Intriguingly, pathological hallmarks caused by quality control defects – such as defective protein accumulation and essential organelles mitochondria losing their function – often co-occur in many human diseases, suggesting that different quality control pathways may interact and assemble a network in response to diverse types of cellular stress,” said Wu, professor of biological sciences at SMU (Southern Methodist University).

Think of these different quality control pathways as assembly line workers in a factory: Each is responsible for monitoring a different part of the process that together, results in our molecules, cells or other biological entities being able to maintain optimal performance as they constantly grow, divide or respond to the environment. When these pathways spot a poorly assembled item – like an improperly folded protein – they pull it off the assembly line and repair it.

With the 5-year award, which seeks to increase chances for important breakthroughs in biological processes, Wu and his team of graduate students are trying to identify how this continuum of cellular quality control pathways might work. 

Based on Wu’s previous work, the team is focused on dissecting the molecular basis of three known pathways: ribosome-associated translation quality control, macromolecule quality control, and organelle (mitochondrial) quality control.

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