Proteins are central to the function of all living beings and maintaining them in proper condition (known as their ‘folded state’) is important to health. It is now apparent that protein misfolding contributes to many diseases of ageing, such as dementia, diabetes and even the physical feebleness of old age. To delay these undesirable processes we need to better understand how cells and tissues (in which protein misfolding is played out) adapt to this problem and then we must seek ways to strengthen favourable adaptations and discourage unfavourable ones.
Much of this work can be carried out in cultured mammalian cells and yeasts, but to critically test the outcome of manipulating the adaptations to misfolding of proteins, it is necessary to experiment with complex organisms that resemble humans. Dr Ron and colleagues will use rodents, such as mice and rats, which represent a reasonable compromise between practicality and proximity to human biology, to search for potential new therapies in humans.