Eight scientists in the NeurdyPhagy lab. They are all posing with their arms crossed. The scientists are wearing white lab coats with blue gloves.
Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Professor Dale Martin receives grant to explore new therapeutic targets in ALS research

By Sarah Fullerton

Digital Communications Specialist

Professor Dale Martin's research lab is a recipient of a $125,000 ALS Canada-Brain Canada 2023 Discovery Grant. This grant program, dedicated to advancing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research, encourages out-of-the-box ideas in the field.  

As an Assistant Professor in Biology, Martin’s research lab (NeurdyPhagy Lab) is dedicated to identifying new therapeutic targets for ALS. ALS is caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, which has been linked to protein mislocalization and aggregation. These neurons have very long extensions known as axons that connect the brain and spinal cord to our muscles. Axons can be meters long, and proteins must travel long distances to mediate their effects, like metabolism or signalling muscles to move. The challenge arises when proteins, intended for specific cellular locations, are misdirected and perform their functions in the wrong location.  

The NeurdyPhagy lab studies a process in protein localization called fatty acylation. This process involves the addition of fat to proteins, which will act like a postal code directing them to the proper location in the cell. Building on the findings of Lucia Liao’s PhD research project, with her project student Yasmeen Alshehabi, the lab pinpointed key proteins involved in ALS that undergo acylation.  

Three scientists in the NeurdyPhagy lab. A male scientists is standing with his back turned. He is wearing a white lab coat with a design on the back. Two female scientists are standing on either side facing the camera. They are wearing white lab coats.

From left to right: Yasmeen Alshehabi, Dale Martin, and Lucia Liao.

Fatty acylation is reversible, allowing proteins to be re-directed within the cell multiple times. By identifying proteins that regulate this process, Martin and Liao aim to contribute to new therapeutic targets for ALS, aided by the generous $125,000 Discover Grant spanning over two years. Liao also secured a three-year ALS Canada-Brain Canada PhD scholarship worth $75,000 in 2022. “I am humbled and grateful to ALS Canada and Brain Canada for their recognition and support for my work,” Liao says. “I hope that the insight gathered from my project will lay the foundations of future research and multidisciplinary collaborations to study this previously unexplored area in ALS pathogenesis.”  

Martin and the team are honoured to be selected as a grant recipient, and he looks forward to presenting the research at the upcoming ALS Canada meeting on April 27-29. “These research funds will help us delve deeper into some of the earliest molecular mechanisms that go awry in ALS and set the foundation for continuing ALS research in the NeurdyPhagy lab,” Martin says. “We’re grateful for this funding and I’m excited to provide an update to the ALS community at the ALS Canada Research Forum in April.”   

For those interested in further supporting this crucial research, please reach out to Meaghan Middleton (meaghan.middleton@uwaterloo.ca), the Director of Advancement in the Faculty of Science. By leaving a gift, you will help Martin and his team advance the search to discover new therapeutic targets in ALS research.  

Professor Dale Martin is standing in the NeurdyPhagy research lab. He is wearing a white lab coat, a blue collared shirt, and blue glasses.

Dr. Dale Martin Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science