Brendan Miller is a neuroscience PhD student in the Cohen Lab. Miller, who recently earned a Young Investigator Award from Alzheimer’s Los Angeles (ALZLA), spoke to us about his research studying mitochondrial mutations in Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: What are you hoping to discover?
A: We know that mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the earliest hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, but it’s still unclear what is actually driving that dysfunction. I am hoping that we can find new mitochondrial gene mutations that are driving that dysfunction, and then we can take models that have that mutation and try to fix them.
Q: How do you find these mutations?
A: It’s a two-step process. First, we are doing big data studies to identify mutations, and then we bring it down to a molecular level — replicating those mutations in cells — to see what they’re actually doing, and trying to find the mechanism.
Q: What is the most exciting aspect of this work?
A: Most of the genetic studies that have been published have not looked at the mitochondrial DNA. There could be hundreds of really small mitochondrial genes that have been overlooked. We are looking at mutations in these small mitochondrial genes. It is exciting to see if we can look at this uncharted landscape, identify which small genes are important and eventually target treatments toward them.