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Recent Posts

Another Way to Kill Bad Cells: Recent Work in Pyroptosis

Posted by Kin Leung on Jun 30, 2022 12:00:00 PM

Once upon a time when I was a fledgling science nerd in high school, I started learning about the process of apoptosis, which remains to this day the most studied form of cell death in various functions including organismal development and defense against cancer. As an immunologist-in-training, I also learned about the classical complement pathway that the immune system uses to destroy infected cells, and also necrotic cell death or necroptosis (which is full of really gross pictures if you dare to Google it). Of course, I learned about autophagy in graduate school and really appreciate its utility in normal physiology and disease, while very recently I read about ferroptosis as yet another programmed cell death (PCD) pathway. Right around when the Nobel Prize was awarded to recognize the elucidation of PCD, pyroptosis came about as a novel PCD pathway that is continuing to gain steam in its clinical relevance. It seems logical for cells and organisms to have redundant systems in place to clear away damaged and malignant cells before a health crisis can emerge if the cell evades the primary route of apoptosis.

 

Why Protein Structure is a Big Deal

Posted by Kin Leung on Jun 24, 2022 12:00:00 PM

My first experience in a basic research laboratory was a structural biology project, in which we were attempting to solve the structure of a nervous system protein known as myelin basic protein (MBP). As a rookie undergraduate scientist at the University of California, I had great mentors who taught me everything, from how to purify recombinant proteins from bacteria to doing library work to understand what had been done before so I could build upon it. I also learned how to use an electron microscope (EM) to gather structural data. MBP was an interesting challenge as it had multiple isoforms due to alternative splicing, and generally behaved like a random coil. 1 The major function of MBP is to take advantage of its highly positive charge to compact myelin in higher organisms, with research over the years suggesting it may have some capacity to form alpha helices, although atomic-resolution structures have not yet been reported. MBP has also been reported as a biomarker in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. 1

A Path To Effective Precision Therapeutics For Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by Kin Leung on Jun 17, 2022 12:00:00 PM

Before my grandmother passed, she had been battling severe dementia for a very long time, which made it difficult in many ways to have conversations with her. It would take several minutes for her to process who I was, and then it would seem like she would remember me and my family, but she would still have to ask for clarification several times even after we had answered her queries. I am grateful that she is in a better place now, but her challenges in the final years of her life deepened my empathy for people who suffer from dementia, and those who take care of them.

 

ABclonal in Action: Autophagy as a Therapeutic Target

Posted by Kin Leung on Jun 10, 2022 12:00:00 PM

 

Every now and then when I get hungry, I joke that my stomach is about to digest itself. For the longest time, human science was unaware that our cells could literally eat itself (or more precisely, parts of itself) as well! First described in the 1960s by Christian de Duve (who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the lysosome), the term autophagy derives from Greek words combined to mean “self-eating” and describes a process by which the cell degrades large components and organelles in a distinct mechanism. 1-3 The phenomenon was not studied extensively until the 1990s, when Yoshinori Ohsumi performed a series of groundbreaking experiments to determine the underlying mechanisms of autophagy, an achievement for which he was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Ohsumi’s work has led to an explosion of research that has precipitated a greater understanding of the role played by cellular digestion, degradation, and recycling pathways in human health and disease.

Traffic Management: The Indispensable Vesicular Transport System

Posted by Kin Leung on Jun 3, 2022 12:00:00 PM

When I taught high school biology, a favorite part of the curriculum was cellular structures and functions. I set up an activity suggested by other experienced biology teachers that was based on the “Cell City,” a learning analogy where students would create an artwork of a city with the mitochondrion as a power plant and a vacuole as a lake. (Figure 1) I wish I saved their very creative projects, but I distinctly remember one group used the Chicago Transit Authority’s elevated train system map to represent the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a very clever use of the analogy and a nod to city pride. It was also the first time these students really thought about vesicular transport, although they didn't fully understand its importance.

Plant Power: Plant Chemicals and Proteins for Human Health

Posted by Kin Leung on Jun 1, 2022 2:13:47 PM

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, and even after I came to the United States, my parents and grandparents would periodically give me ginseng beverages and soups, which was not always pleasant due to the bitter taste. As a result, I don’t think I really appreciated the benefits of ginseng, both scientifically confirmed and perceived. It is fun and informative to read about the myriad studies of natural plant extracts and how they can improve our well-being. Many folks like to drink herbal teas or use plant-derived supplements such as aloe vera lotions, so maybe this is good incentive to grow more of these beneficial plants such that they can provide health products as well as some clean oxygen for us to breathe!