Chemists in Arts & Sciences are working to engineer proteins that may help counter devastating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.
The proteins in our bodies have evolved over many millions of years to reach their current diversity of functions, spurring on the necessary chemical reactions occurring within our cells, and protecting us from disease. Each has a unique three-dimensional structure to perform a specific function. But as our lifespans get longer, certain proteins become increasingly prone to take on alternative shapes from their evolutionarily stable ones. These misfolded proteins can ultimately trigger neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS. Meredith Jackrel, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, is developing strategies to make cells better able to deal with these tragic diseases. Jackrel and her research group are the recent recipients of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health 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.