Matthew Tang, Post-doctoral fellow,
McGill University (Montreal Neurological Institute)
Basic Research Fellowship: $80,000 over two years

Parkin, E3-Ubiquitin ligase, Autophagy

Matthew Tang developed a highly personal interest in diseases that compromise the body’s nervous system while watching a friend suffer the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He now studies Parkinson’s disease as a post-doctoral fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute, where he feels the same urgency to solve a pressing health quandary.

“Although there are many neurodegenerative diseases, each having a distinct pathology, they all share one terrifying certainty: the progressive death of neurons in which there is no cure,” he explains. “I was fascinated by why selective neurons in the brain are more susceptible to disease processes and what could be done to stop it, not only in ALS but in neurodegenerative disorders in general.”

In the case of understanding the process of Parkinson’s disease, Tang is examining a protein called parkin, which normally oversees the disposal of damaged cellular components. He is probing the structure of this complex molecule in order to identify any conformational changes that are linked to its normal biochemical function. This information would set the stage for a testing regime, so that possible drug candidates could quickly be assessed for their possible effectiveness in restoring or enhancing parkin activity and so relieving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“When you look at these diseases, one of the main things they have in common is inefficient removal and the subsequent build-up of waste products,” he says. “There’s a great deal of emphasis on discovering the pathways responsible, and restoring or enhancing them.”

He acknowledges that this is an ambitious research agenda, which is why he regards the support of the Parkinson’s Society of Canada as crucial.

“I am very fortunate and honoured to receive this award, which will allow me to investigate the conformational changes of parkin during its activation,” he concludes, adding that this experience is building the foundation of his intended career as a researcher.