Cell death grant worth $1.74 million Cell death grant worth $1.74 millionPublished: Friday, January 6, 2017 By: Sarah Terry-Coba Source: The Journal Record
Call it a happy accident. Courtney Griffin didn’t intend to study a new cell death type called necroptosis in her Oklahoma City lab, but the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist stumbled across a protein that destroys blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease.
Now she has a $1.74 million federal grant to study the protein. The National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute awarded the four-year grant on Dec. 9. The money allows her to hire two new researchers, increasing her lab staff to eight.
She said the new scientists will
bring fresh ideas to the lab, in part because neither have done much work in the necroptosis field, she said. The protein is a gene called RIPK3, and there has been only about 10 years’ worth of study on the subject, she said.
Griffin said she and her staff were examining mouse embryos with disintegrating blood vessels. They discovered there was a high level of the cell-death gene in those embryos. Scientists understand how blood vessels rupture and know the gene contributes to aneurysms and artery hardening.
But they want to know what triggers the gene to destroy cells, and how that might be different when it happens in the gut versus the brain.
“This is not the normal type of cell death that is happening in the body,” Griffin said.
Liver blood vessels can be damaged from drug overdoses and exposure to alcohol as well as to Tylenol. She and her staff use liver cells in mouse embryos to study the effects of the gene as it destroys the cells. They can see damage to those cells within two hours of a Tylenol dose.
She said examining embryonic stages is important because it could be possible to determine how exploding blood vessels manifest.
Griffin said scientists could create ways to intervene in the gene and prevent the cell death that leads to weakened or destroyed blood vessels. Other researchers are examining how to create therapies to interfere with the process based on their understanding of planned cell death, according to 2014 research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The great news about necroptosis is that it is pharmacologically inhibitable,” Griffin said.
She said she hopes her grant will be renewed so that she can continue to study the cell death process. Because there isn’t much published research on the issue, it provides Griffin and her staff an opportunity to break new ground. And if they take a wrong turn, it’s important to publish that information too, she said. That prevents other researchers from making the same mistakes, she said.
“It’s a cool time for the cell death community,” she said.