Prof. Mohan Babu, Assistant Professor,
University of Regina
Pilot Project Grant: $45,000

Mapping the Systems Properties of the Mitochondrial Interactome in Parkinson’s disease

Mitochondria are the tiny compartments within cells that convert food to energy that the cells can use to replicate and divide. Inside those mitochondria are proteins that physically connect and interact with one another to trigger specific functions, like those connected to motor control and movement.

At the University of Regina, Mohan Babu, a systems biologist, is using genetic screening to map those proteins, in particular the ones connected to genes that have already been identified as critical for Parkinson`s disease. When some of those genes are mutated, they can cause different forms of Parkinson`s disease. Babu wants to determine what proteins are physically and functionally linked to one another, and to chart the functions associated with each protein, as well as the pathways in the brain along which the proteins are connected.

“At the end of the day, by functionally characterizing these pathways, we can nail down which molecules are interacting and those potentially interesting interacting protein molecules could be the therapeutic targets,” Babu says.

Ultimately, removing damaged genes from cells might be one way of preventing Parkinson’s disease.
Assembling all of this basic information will help researchers identify the backup systems surrounding the 10 genes that are already identified as critical to Parkinson`s. The backup systems are important, because even if researchers figure out a way to knock out one malfunctioning gene, its backup system will take over and continue to kill dopamine-producing brain cells unless the backup system is also dismantled.

By developing a drug that targets both the mutated genes identified as causing Parkinson’s, and its backup systems, researchers might one day be able to stop the progression of the disease. Babu hopes his expertise in integrative systems biology will bring an important perspective to Parkinson’s research, to answer some of the fundamental research questions about how the disease begins and what goes wrong at a basic molecular level within cells.

“I want to provide a strong foundation for large-scale studies and resources,” Babu says. “The resources we’re going to generate, and the biological information … it opens up avenues for other researchers to exploit the data and create follow-up experiments to explore the genes in depth.”