Biochemists follow clues toward Alzheimer's, cancer, longevity

IMAGE: In microscopic images of muscle tissue from normal fruit flies (left), fluorescent tags reveal uniform levels of the structural protein actin (blue) and almost no poly-UB, a protein aggregate that… view more 

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Credit: James McNew/Rice University

HOUSTON — (June 28, 2018) — James McNew’s and Michael Stern’s biochemical hunt for the root cause of a rare, paralyzing genetic disorder is a 10-year quest that’s taken an unexpected turn toward everyday killers such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and aging.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Rice University scientists a five-year R01 grant to investigate a biochemical domino effect that begins with a critical regulatory protein called TOR and ends with cells dying of oxidative stress. TOR regulates cell growth and survival and only recently became a focus for Stern and McNew, professors of biochemistry and cell biology in Rice’s Department of BioSciences and co-investigators on the $1.9 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“It’s known that TOR controls starvation in virtually every animal, including humans,” McNew said. “Decreased TOR activity has even been found to increase the life span of yeast, worms and fruit flies, and some studies have found that TOR-inhibiting drugs increase the life span


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