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Grant will allow computer programs to study causes of juvenile diabetes

 ernesto bernal-mizrachi mdDr. Santiago Schnell


Dr. Schnell aims to uncover sources of aberrant protein folding and accumulation using computational modeling

ANN ARBOR, Mich., January 2011 — University of Michigan diabetes researcher Santiago Schnell, Ph.D, has won a three-year research award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. Dr. Schnell is Associate Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, Research Associate Professor of Computational Medicine and Biology, and U-M Brehm Investigator at the Brehm Center for Diabetes Research.

Dr. Schnell is known for his work in mathematical and computational modeling of reactions and metabolism. The grant-winning project, titled “Identification of bistable network topologies associated with toxic aggregation thresholds found in conformational diseases,” will investigate the processes that trigger protein misfolding and accumulation in cells. Aberrant protein folding is believed to be closely linked to a variety of diseases, including permanent neonatal diabetes or type1B diabetes.

The guiding hypothesis of Dr. Schnell’s proposal is that there are a limited number of reactions capable of causing the aggregation of aberrant proteins in the cells. If so, it should be possible to discover the essential reaction motifs that are the basis of the aberrant folding and aggregation of proteins in cells. To test this hypothesis, the researchers will implement complex computational tools to investigate protein synthesis and folding reactions.

The results of this research could be very important in the search for drugs aimed at modulating diseases such as type 1B diabetes, as well as cataracts, medullary carcinoma and pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, and even neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease.

The James S. McDonnell Foundation was established in 1950 by the late James S. McDonnell, aviation pioneer and visionary founder of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. Since its inception, the McDonnell Foundation has awarded over $347 million in grants. Dr. Schnell’s grant was awarded through the Foundation’s 21st Century Science Initiative, for which projects are expected to meet highly selective intellectual standards.

The U-M Brehm Investigators are a group of University of Michigan researchers representing a variety of scientific areas who are dedicated to bringing their unique skills to address the puzzle of type 1 diabetes. Their work is made possible by Bill and Dee Brehm, whose personal mission is to empower scientists to apply the tools of research and analysis to deliver a cure for type 1 diabetes.

The Brehm Center for Diabetes Research was established in the Brehms’ names as part of their $44 million gift to the University of Michigan in 2004. Their generosity also established the Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center in 2005, which unites diabetes-related clinical and research activities on the U-M campus.

For more information on Dr. Schnell's research, please see his lab website.