2018 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Martina Velichkovska

Martina Velichkovska

SRF Summer Scholar, Class of 2018

SRF Research Center

I am a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major at the University of Miami. As a freshman, I joined Dr. Toborek’s lab. His research group is focusing on the molecular neuroscience of the brain. In the Toborek lab, I worked on several projects and became a co-author on papers studying the mechanistic pathways for glucose and mitochondria uptake in pericytes as well as methamphetamine influence on HIV-infectivity of neural progenitor cells (NPCs). For my independent project, I am studying the molecular pathways of HIV-dependent aging of NPCs with a focus on mitochondrial dysfunction. Here at the SRF Research Center, I worked with the MitoSENS team.

The MitoSENS team envisions transferring all the energy-essential mitochondrial genes to the nucleus. In fact, most mitochondrial genes are already expressed from the nucleus and their respective proteins are localized to mitochondria. Hence, MitoSENS is applying the mechanistic intricacies of these biological processes in gene engineering strategies to relocate mitochondrial genes to the nucleus. These strategies can be applied to cure genetically inherited mitochondrial diseases, any mitochondrial-dysfunction related diseases, as well as aging.

As a SRF Summer Scholar, I had the opportunity to design and test mitochondrial gene engineering strategies that potentially have the ability to improve stable expression from the nucleus. I evaluated rescued function using several different research methods. Additionally, I optimized a quantitative assay that the MitoSENS team will use in the future to functionally assess rescued mitochondrial function and compare the efficiencies of the different gene engineering strategies.

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