Reddi Wins NSF CAREER Award
Nature is fraught with paradox. For example, as much as half of the proteins that we rely on require metals to function properly. But metals can be pretty toxic to cells. So, somehow cells have managed to repurpose something that is inherently toxic into something beneficial. And it’s Amit Reddi’s job to find out why.
“Broadly speaking, we’re interested in figuring out how cells assimilate metals into metabolism in a safe way,” says Reddi, assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and a faculty researcher with the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
The work is important enough and challenging enough so that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Reddi with a CAREER Award, an early career development program for young investigators.
“Basically, the program provides funding for the investigator’s potential to really make an impact,” says Reddi, whose lab focuses primarily on copper and iron, which are among the dozen or so metals that are frequently encountered in biology.
Reddi’s lab is particularly interested in a form of iron called heme (heme gives blood its red color). Heme is very important, he says, because of its presence in a lot of proteins. However, heme is also toxic.
“But we have no idea how the cell shuttles heme around,” says Reddi. “So we want to figure out exactly how cells handle heme – from the time its acquired or made by a cell, to how it’s distributed to all of the proteins that require heme. The grant is focused on understanding how these types of processes work.”
The five-year award is totaled at $912,000, a lengthy jump start, “that gives me time to really build the program,” says Reddi.
His lab has developed sensors to track the flow of heme, so one of the grant goals is to apply these sensors help identify the molecules and processes that regulate the mobilization of heme.
“The longer term view, beyond the grant, is to recast heme as this very dynamic and mobile molecule,” Reddi says. “Our work has showed that it is actually a very mobile nutrient, and it might be important for signaling.”
Heme is basically present in every aspect of metabolism. So, Reddi’s even longer-term goal would be to control metabolism through the control of heme.
“If we can inhibit the ability of certain proteins from acquiring heme,” he says, “we can begin to think about targeting diseases like cancer or neurodegenerative diseases where heme plays a role in the pathology.”
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