MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
Martin and his research group are exploring the key players in a signaling pathway that derives its name from the Greek god Janus. The two-faced god of beginnings and endings is apt symbolic representation for its molecular namesake, the Janus kinase (JAK), whose two elements facilitate the dialogue between molecules outside of the cell and the genome within the cell nucleus.
The so-called JAK/STAT signaling pathway plays a role in blood development, cell division and the immune response in most organisms. The pathway is much simpler in flies than humans, but they’re essentially very similar. A molecule outside the cell, for example interferon, binds to a receptor on the cell-surface. JAKs inside the cell then bind to the receptor and are activated. They transmit their activity to molecules called STATs which are then transported into the cell nucleus, bind to DNA and prompt specific genes to start making protein.
Martin’s research is relevant to blood cell cancers that result from overproduction of abnormal blood cells in the bone marrow. Many such disorders have recently been attributed to a mutation in human JAK2. His team has showed that mutating JAK in flies hugely increases the number of blood cells and growth of tumours, but that mutating other JAK/STAT pathway components in addition can ameliorate disease progression.
The MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics is located within the Department of Biomedical Science and has a central purpose to bring together developmental geneticists with clinician scientists. With sixteen full members and eight associate members, each heading an independent research laboratory, the CDBG has around 100 postdoctoral research assistants, post graduate students and technical staff and attracts annual grant income in excess of £2m. The University of Sheffield itself is committed to enhancing the European dimension of its work and participates in over 50 Framework projects with a total budget of €30 million.