Studying cranky immune cells
Deciphering the mechanistic role of PINK1/PARKIN in microglial priming and Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis
Immune cells known as microglia are intended to defend the brain from intruders such as infection or injury. As we age, however, these cells can become overly sensitive, activated even when there’s no problem in the brain.
Those over-sensitized immune cells may then attack and kill neighbouring neurons that produce the signalling chemical dopamine. Without enough dopamine, people develop Parkinson’s.
“The theory is that as people get older, their immune cells become crankier,” says Ramy Malty, a neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Regina.
“There’s no infection or injury in the brain, but the immune cells are activated even to infections or traumas outside the brain, elsewhere in the body.”
Figuring out what activates these cranky immune cells is the goal of Malty’s research. Using microglia derived from stem cells taken from the skin of people with Parkinson’s disease, Malty will screen all the genes in the human genome to see which ones are involved in activating the immune system in the brain.
“We don’t know what each gene has to do with each particular process, so we have to go on a fishing trip. We’re fishing for a gene (or genes) that affects these processes,” he says.
Once Malty and his colleagues have pinpointed the genes and proteins involved in activating the immune system in the brain, they will have targets for drugs or other therapies that can block the overactivation of the microglial cells.
Malty speculates that this overactivation of the brain’s immune system is an inflammatory process run amuck. The good news is that excellent therapies to reduce inflammation are already approved.
“When you’re jumping in a dark pool and you don’t know anything, any spot of light is important.”
Ramy Malty graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy, Ain Shams University, in Cairo, Egypt in 2000 with a bachelor in pharmaceutical sciences (BS Pharm).
He then obtained a Master of Science (MSc) in Pharmacology from the same institute in 2004.
Ramy enrolled as a graduate student in the doctoral program at Indiana University in 2006, and in 2012, he was awarded a PhD in Pharmacology from Indiana University, USA.
In 2013 he became a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Mohan Babu’s lab at the University of Regina, Department of Chemistry. In 2016 he was awarded fellowship from Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation for two years.