The Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative has awarded James Hurley, a faculty scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) Division, $7 million over three years to investigate the role of damaged mitochondria in the disease. The grant is among 21, totaling $161 million, announced by the ASAP initiative, which aims to fund basic research to close gaps in our understanding of the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease and its progression.
Hurley, who is also a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley (UCB), will lead a multi-institution interdisciplinary team that includes Eunyong Park of UCB, Erika Holzbaur of the University of Pennsylvania, Sascha Martens of the Max Perutz Labs in Austria, and Michael Lazarou of Monash University in Australia.
According to Hurley, one of the most promising leads in Parkinson’s research involves two genes, PINK1 and Parkin, mutated variants of which are found in families with the hereditary form of the disease. Richard Youle at the NIH recently received the 2021 Breakthrough Prize for establishing that the normal function of these genes is to label damaged mitochondria for recycling (a process called mitophagy), and that mutations allow damaged mitochondria to accumulate, which leads to cell death.
Hurley has studied cellular recycling for more than 10 years and will employ the techniques he has developed to study this process in its entirety. “We are going to dive deep and really work out in great, gory detail, atom by atom, exactly how the genes affect mitophagy at the level of precision that we would need to compute what steps you would have to change, and by how much, in a therapy,” he said.
Read more from UC Berkeley News.