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Oklahoma researcher discovers 'gatekeeper' gene

A scientist from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has uncovered a gene responsible for making sure the location of organelles inside nerve cells doesn't interfere with their vital ability to send and receive messages.
Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Published: May 7, 2013
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/articleid/3807013/1/pictures/2045934">Photo - C. elegans is a type of transparent roundworm often used in research. OMRF scientist Dr. Kenneth Miller discovered a gene that controls the movement of organelles in nerve cells using mutant versions of the worm. Photo provided. <strong>Steve Sisney</strong>
C. elegans is a type of transparent roundworm often used in research. OMRF scientist Dr. Kenneth Miller discovered a gene that controls the movement of organelles in nerve cells using mutant versions of the worm. Photo provided. Steve Sisney

“Dr. Miller's research presents a new idea about how neurons control the location of their organelles,” said Michael Sesma, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partly supported the work. “By visualizing organelle movement in neurons using living, see-through worms, we are better able to understand how human brain cells develop and respond to injury.”

“We're a long way from using this discovery for treatment, but this kind of basic research is essential to moving the ball forward,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “New tests and therapeutics won't arrive unless we lay the groundwork by understanding the fundamentals of how brain cells develop and work.”

C. elegans may continue to play an important role in understanding how brain cells function. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced a $100 million BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative with a goal of making breakthroughs akin to the Human Genome Project of the 1990s. He has appointed a C. elegans neurobiologist to co-chair a committee for how best to direct funding.

The study was a collaboration with Janet Richmond, Ph.D., at the University of Illinois, Chicago. OMRF researchers Stacey Edwards, the lead author, and Christopher Hoover, as well as former OMRF researcher Barret Phillips, also participated in the project.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health.

OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human diseases. Its scientists focus on such critical research areas as cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.


We're a long way from using this discovery for treatment, but this kind of basic research is essential to moving the ball forward. New tests and therapeutics won't arrive unless we lay the groundwork by understanding the fundamentals of how brain cells develop and work.”

Dr. Stephen Prescott,
OMRF President

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