When human cells are unable to protect themselves

Pontus Gourdon, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, has just been awarded a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship, and he will study what happens when the transport of substances in and out of the cells does not work. Dreaded dementia diseases can occur if there is an imbalance in a number of substances in human cells.

2013.11.15 | Mette Helm

[Translate to English:] Pontus Gourdon fra Institut for Molekylærbiologi og Genetik på Aarhus Universitet har netop modtaget Lundbeckfondens fellowship. (Foto: Lundbeckfonden)

The body is a fantastic machine. Billions of cells work all the time to ensure well-being and good health. The right substances must enter the cells, while others have to exit. The right balance must be maintained. However, it sometimes goes wrong, and congenital genetic disorders or diseases can mean that the body’s cells are no longer able to control the transport of substances. Serious diseases can occur, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

But what happens precisely when this transport is unable to work – and what can be done about it? This is what Dr Gourdon will investigate. With the funds provided by his fellowship, the 35-year-old researcher from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University will establish a team that will spend the next five years closely studying membrane proteins and the substance transport they carry out.

Human cell shield

Membrane proteins are embedded in the cellular membrane. They ensure that only the right substances enter and exit – when they perform as they are supposed to.

“We’ll be using very advanced equipment to study the membrane proteins. Our aim is to produce very thorough models of the proteins – you could almost call them 3D images at very high resolution. Using these, we’ll be much better at seeing and understanding how the different types of membrane proteins work. We’ll thus get better at developing and optimising different types of medicine to combat the diseases that can arise when there’s a failure in the transport of substances to and from the cells,” explains Dr Gourdon.

An unknown world

Membrane proteins are found in many versions – in fact there are close to 10,000 different types in humans. However, only a few of these have been studied in detail.

The functional errors that can occur in the transport of membrane proteins also constitute a relatively new field of research. It was not until the late 1980s that the first high-resolution model of a membrane protein was produced, enabling researchers to understand the ‘gatekeeper’ function of the protein in detail.

A milestone in his career

Pontus Gourdon is extremely happy about being awarded a fellowship by the Lundbeck Foundation.

“This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. I’m in no doubt that being a Lundbeck Foundation Fellow is a milestone in my career. It provides me with an opportunity to gather a team around me, so we can delve deeper into an understanding of our fantastic cells. Our research results might possibly help combat some of the diseases we fear most of all,” he says.

The Lundbeck Foundation has granted Dr Gourdon DKK 10 million for a five-year project to map three different membrane protein families.


For more information, please contact

Pontus Gourdon
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Aarhus University, Denmark
+45 5033 9990
pgo@mb.au.dk

 

Public / media, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics