Yeast oxysterol binding proteins and the cholesterol dependent regulation of Rho-GTPase mediated polarized cell growth

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Canadians. More than one million Canadians currently live with this chronic disease and every year, more than 81,000 die. A major contributor to heart disease is cholesterol. Ironically, even though too much cholesterol is bad for our health, it cannot be completely removed from our bodies because it is essential for human life. Controlling dietary cholesterol is not always enough to reduce cholesterol levels in the body since our cells can also produce their own cholesterol. Loss of cholesterol regulation in our bodies not only leads to heart disease, it is also causes problems inside cells that can lead to other disease states. In fact, recent studies showed that the use of cholesterol-reducing drugs not only lowered cholesterol, they also decreased the incidence of breast cancer in Canadian women by 74 per cent. Recently, a group of cholesterol-binding proteins were identified and have been shown to mediate many of the functions linked to cholesterol. Gabriel Alfaro is using microscopy, biochemistry, and genetics to determine the mechanisms underlying how these proteins affect cholesterol regulation and mediate cellular functions. His research uses baker’s yeast as a model system, since the regulation of cholesterol in yeast is similar to its regulation in humans. Gabriel Alfaro’s research will enhance our understanding of the role cholesterol plays in the cell, and potentially point to new drug targets that could have fewer side effects relative to the current broad spectrum cholesterol inhibitors. Furthermore, his research will help elucidate the mechanism underlying cholesterol-related diseases