Now, a research team led by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University is working full time at the molecular level of medicine to find out.
These "metallobiochemists" are part of an interdisciplinary research program that has become one of the first in the nation to focus on understanding metal homeostasis in human cells and its disruption not just in Wilson's and Menkes diseases, but also diseases such as hemochromatosis, Lou Gehrig's disease and even mad cow disease, all of which may be linked to errors in metal metabolism.
The research explores molecular mechanisms regulating primarily copper and iron concentrations in normal and diseased cells. The metals are essential to a wide range of biological processes, and aberrations in their metabolism lead to life-threatening and disabling disorders.
Svetlana Lutsenko, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the OHSU School of Medicine, is leading the multifaceted project titled "Metal Ion Regulation in Human Cells." The effort unites several research laboratories studying the distribution of metals at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels, including teams from OHSU's schools of medicine, science and engineering, and dentistry, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena.
"It's very important to understand the regulation of metals in cells," Lutsenko said. "It's a fairly new area of research we really wanted to develop. We're trying to dissect normal metal metabolism and to understand the effect of metals on disease progression."
Vital to the project's success is the "metal ion core," a collection of precision lab equipment that includes a mass spectrome
Contact: Jonathan Modie
Oregon Health & Science University