As human lifespans have gotten longer, certain proteins in our bodies are increasingly prone to take on alternative shapes. These misfolded proteins can ultimately trigger neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Meredith Jackrel, assistant professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is developing strategies to make cells better able to deal with these devastating diseases. Jackrel recently received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and another from the Longer Life Foundation to study protein disaggregases — evolved protein forms that mitigate protein misfolding — as a strategy to combat these diseases.
Her lab is exploring several naturally found protein disaggregases in hopes of engineering them to improve upon their capabilities.