Area of Doctoral Study: Molecular Medicine
Undergraduate Institute: North Carolina State University
Research Advisor: Paul A. Welling, M.D.
The Welling lab elucidates how the levels of potassium, the body’s most abundant mineral, are regulated at molecular, cellular and organ system levels. The focus of my project is to understand how the key mediator of potassium balance, a potassium channel called ROMK, is regulated in health and goes awry in disease.
Potassium helps muscles and nerves work the right way. Healthy kidneys maintain potassium balance by varying urinary excretion to precisely match normal variations in amounts ingested in the diet. Damaged kidneys are not able to get rid of potassium well enough, causing potassium to build up in the body. This can be debilitating, and in some cases, lethal. In fact, patients with kidney disease often complain that too much potassium makes their hearts beat irregularly. Sometimes their hearts can stop without warning.
My research project uses a multidisciplinary approach and a combination of molecular genetic and state-of-the-art cell physiologic and cell biological tools to explore how the abundance of ROMK is regulated. I am especially interested in understanding how ROMK channels are degraded. The overarching hypothesis is that a signal embedded within the ROMK structure targets the channel for degradation. Presently, I am elucidating the nature of the signal and discovering what intracellular machinery “decodes” it. The overall goal is to ultimately provide a physiological model for the molecular mechanism underlying the degradation of the ROMK channel that will provide valuable insight for future drug design.