Dr. Noah L. Weisleder, Ph.D., an Investigator in the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute and Associate Professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, recently received a $100,000 grant from the National Football League (NFL) Charities Medical Research Grants. Totaling $1.5 million, the grants fund sports-related medical research, with a significant emphasis on traumatic brain injuries and concussion prevention and treatment. Aside from OSU, fourteen other institutions received grant awards including Yale University, University of California- Berkeley, Columbia University, and Washington University.
Dr. Weisleder joined the faculty of the College’s Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute in early September, so – with the receipt of this grant award – his impact on the OSU community has been notable and immediate. He received a B.S. in Biotechnology and Molecular Biology from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and then advanced on to receive a PhD from the Baylor College of Medicine. Upon graduating from Baylor, he served as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, with Dr. Jianjie Ma, an international leader in cell and molecular physiology, where he focused on treating muscular dystrophy and cardiovascular disease.
In what would eventually prove to be a crucial milestone in his career, Dr. Weisleder’s postdoctoral work with Dr. Ma resulted in the discovery of a new class of proteins involved in how cells repair their damaged external membranes Thus was born a new focus on a heretofore rather undefined area in medical research: the process by which individual cells repair themselves following injury. With the Ma group, Dr. Weisleder was among the first medical scientists to identify the gene known as MG53 – shorthand for the Japanese word “mitsugumin,” meaning “junction.” As Dr. Weisleder explained, “MG53 is a protein integral to the cell repair process and principally appears in skeletal and cardiac muscle.” Wondering if MG53’s regenerative properties might help with the repair of cell membrane disruption beyond skeletal and cardiac tissue, Dr. Weisleder concluded that traumatic brain injuries might be a fertile testing ground for his notion. So, ultimately, the discovery of MG53 was a critical steppingstone to Dr. Weisleder’s applying for and receiving the NFL charities grant and, by extension, his current involvement with traumatic brain injuries.
According to Dr. Peter Mohler, Director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, “Noah’s research has advanced our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms underlying cell membrane repair. This work will re-write our textbooks. However, the exciting part of his work is that in the process of these discoveries, he and his collaborators have already pushed this research to define new therapies for common forms of human disease and injury. While other groups nationally are working on inventing methods to visualize and diagnose brain injury, Noah is already fixing it.”
Dr. Weisleder expects to conclude his grant-funded research by September, 2013. At that time, he will submit his findings for publication. Beyond that, he noted, “If we find MG53 can have positive effects on traumatic brain injury, we will look at applying the research to other diseases involving cell membrane disruption, such as Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries.” The long-term implication of his research could result in the use of MG53 as what Dr. Weisleder calls “a molecular bandage,” meaning it would be the first native protein found in the body that when capably applied could provide a catch-all solution to treat cell membrane disruption. While that is certainly an attainable goal for a man whose career is marked by discovery, Dr. Weisleder is intrinsically committed to the exacting science of cell membrane regeneration and thus cautions, “This is experimental therapeutic research and has not yet been approved by the FDA for use on humans so it may be a multiple year journey for what you think is effective in the lab until the time you can actually use it on patients.”
In the short-term, the implications of his research are within Dr. Weisleder’s grasp. He believes that other proteins similar to MG53 exist in the body and, if those can be identified and measured in each cell, it may be possible to diagnose each individual’s susceptibility to traumatic brain injury and other diseases. This type of finding would represent a significant leap forward in how the medical community prevents and treats traumatic brain injuries and concussions.