Each Tuesday, the Daily Voice on UMassMedNow features a first-person narrative from a researcher explaining the science behind a recent grant, and the inspiration or impetus behind becoming a scientist at UMass Medical School. If you know of a researcher you’d like to see profiled, send an e-mail toUMMScommunications@umassmed.edu.
My laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms of endo and exocytosis: how proteins and lipids move between different compartments within each cell, as well as how they are released from cells to facilitate cell-to-cell communication. Cargo molecules are each packaged into small membrane-bound carriers for transport and delivery to specific destinations. These processes are similar to how the postal service picks up a package and delivers it specifically to your home. Only instead of letters and DVDs, the cells’ packages contain molecules such as hormones, neurotransmitters and new building blocks that enable cells to grow and divide. We study several “postal workers,” such as the large protein complex called the exocyst, which examine the cellular equivalents of addresses and zip codes to ensure that each package reaches its proper destination.
By understanding how these mechanisms work in normal cells at the basic cell biological level, we can learn how the transportation and communication processes can be undermined by pathogens trying to enter cells. We may also be able to understand how cancer cells manipulate these pathways in order to grow more quickly and metastasize. And if these proteins fail as a result of the aging process, we can learn how these failures may lead to certain types of neurodegenerative diseases.
I think I was always meant to be a scientist. My father, a microbiologist, continually encouraged me to figure out what my passions were and pursue them. I’ve always been a curious person and scientific research provides numerous opportunities for discovery. I quickly learned that I am driven by the need to understand complex biological mechanisms, such as the internal workings of cells. My greatest fear in life is to be bored, and I have never been bored with research. It’s great to wake up every day and wonder, “What will I learn today?”
I joined UMass Medical School because it is full of brilliant scientists who are passionate about their research. Using a variety of biochemical, cell biological, computational, genetic and microscopic methods, we collaborate regularly to answer critical questions in biomedical science and human health. As a result, interactions with my colleagues have propelled my research in many fascinating directions. I also love working with the excellent students and postdoctoral fellows here, and enjoy sharing in their excitement of new discoveries and innovative ideas. It is rewarding to teach and mentor them, enabling them to become the best scientists they can be.