Dr Luke McAlary and IHMRI Research Assistant Natalie Farrawell.

Photo: Dr Luke McAlary and IHMRI Research Assistant Natalie Farrawell. Photo supplied.

After colour blindness put an end to Dr Luke McAlary’s dreams of becoming a pilot his career is starting to soar after completing his PhD into Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

Former IHMRI PhD Dr McAlary, graduated along with hundreds of others at UOW graduation ceremonies this week.

Luke studied his PhD with Associate Professor Justin Yerbury, investigating the effect of genetic mutations and misfolding genes in MND.

“I originally wanted to be a pilot, but I was turned down due to the genetic deficiency of being colour-blind, I decided that learning about biology would allow me to help others who suffer worse deficiencies,” Dr Luke McAlary said.

“This decision was galvanised by seeing Associate Professor Yerbury’s ongoing struggle with MND. I don’t want anyone to suffer and in this field I have a chance to alleviate human suffering to some degree,” he said.

After completing his PhD, Luke relocated to Canada to take up a post-doc at the University of British Columbia.

Luke is continuing his studies into MND with biophysicist Dr Steven Plotkin.

Dr McAlary says that in the future he hopes to contribute towards a future free from disease and to remain in science so that I can be on the edge of discovery.

Publication

Associate Professor Justin Yerbury and Dr Luke McAlary contributed to a new paper on MND, published in Nature Communications. Read ‘The cysteine-reactive small molecule ebselen facilitates effective SOD1 maturation‘.

This research identifies a drug that has the potential to treat people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with mutations in the gene known as SOD1. It does this by helping the SOD1 protein stay in its healthy state rather than its diseased state. Importantly, the drug is able to do this to SOD1 that contains mutations that make it extremely unhealthy.

Luke’s contributions to this research involved the use of a technique called mass spectrometry to measure the ability of the SOD1 protein to make contact with itself.

“Mass spectrometry measures how much something weighs, which is an important property to measure in proteins. By measuring their weight, we can work out a lot about how proteins interact with one another and in response to drugs,” states Dr McAlary.

In a healthy state, SOD1 exists as two SOD1 proteins that stay bound together, whereas in a disease state SOD1 exists as a single protein.

“The drug appears to be able to shift diseased SOD1 back to the healthy state which I was able to measure by looking at the weight of SOD1, with and without the drug, using mass spectrometry,” he explains.

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