Prestigious NIH MIRA grant funds biochemist & Affiliated QB3 UCSC Faculty Member Glenn Millhauser to expand his research on the function of prion proteins and their role in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s

UCSC | Tim Stephens| May 07, 2019

Glenn Millhauser, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, has received a $1.8 million grant from the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program of the National Institute for General Medical Science (NIGMS). The prestigious five-year grant provides flexible, long-term funding for Millhauser’s research program focused on understanding the role of the prion protein in neurodegenerative diseases.

Prions are misfolded proteins that cause fatal neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cows (“mad cow disease”), and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk. The normal cellular prion protein is found in all mammals as a membrane protein on the surfaces of various cell types, including neurons in the brain. Misfolded prions are transmissible and can induce the normal form of the protein to adopt the abnormal, toxic shape.

Over the past two decades, Millhauser’s lab has made significant progress in understanding the structure and function of the normal cellular prion protein. His research has shown that the protein binds metal ions, specifically copper and zinc, and controls the distribution of these essential elements in the brain. Importantly, he and his collaborators have also shown that the protein has two domains, one of which has toxic effects that drive brain cell damage when not controlled by the other domain.

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