Molecular chaperones and cellular protein folding

I am studying protein folding, a poorly understood but fundamental cellular process by which proteins made in cells fold to attain their correct three-dimensional structures (shapes) and become active. When proteins in a cell do not become active, the result is abnormal function, which often leads to disease. Amino acids are the basic component of proteins, with hundreds of amino acids in each protein. The sequence of amino acids in proteins dictates how a protein folds into its proper shape and achieves its specific function. In some instances, proteins called molecular chaperones have been shown to help newly-made proteins fold properly. My research focuses on understanding how molecular chaperones function at the biochemical and cellular levels, and determining what goes wrong when certain proteins don’t fold properly. For example, one protein called von Hippel-Lindau relies on a particular molecular chaperone to fold correctly. The protein’s loss of function is often caused by protein misfolding, and leads to the major cause of renal cancer. Other diseases, such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s, are also associated with the improper folding of proteins. My basic biomedical work on molecular chaperones helps us understand a fundamental process (protein folding) required for good health. Ultimately, such studies may also provide valuable clues regarding how to tackle some diseases that arise from protein misfolding.