Martin and Carol Macht Award Recipient: Immediate Past Co-President of HBN, Ph.D. Candidate Leire Abalde-Atristain

By April 24, 2019Academic

“When applying to graduate schools, I believed that scientific breakthroughs could hardly be made single-handedly, so I was captivated by the sense of community and emphasis on collaboration emanating from Hopkins when I interviewed for the cellular and molecular medicine graduate program”  Ph.D. Candidate Leire Abalde- Atristain

Please describe your research discovery.  Courtesy of

“Cells need to be in tune with their surroundings to decide when it is most favorable for them to grow. A protein called mTOR is key for sensing the availability of nutrients and serves as a switch between energy-producing and energy-consuming cellular processes. mTOR activity is enabled by its association with several proteins into the mTOR complex 1, and tight regulation of this activity is fundamental for the health of cells.

Our research, conducted in the laboratory of Ted and Valina Dawson, has shown that another protein, called Thorase, can dismantle this mTOR complex 1. Mice that lack Thorase have an excess of mTOR activity, which leads to sudden death through a severe neurological condition reminiscent of what we observe in children harboring Thorase mutations. We have found that treating these mice with the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin greatly alleviates their disease. Since this drug and its derivatives are already used in the clinic, we hope that our findings will be readily translatable. Given that our lab has uncovered a broader role for Thorase in the protection of neurons, we believe our discovery will also have implications for other maladies, such as stroke.”

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