Within every living cell are microscopic proteins that play the role of chaperone when things get dicey.
Called heat shock proteins, the molecules have a starring role in a cell’s response to external stresses such as excessive temperatures, infection or exposure to toxins.“There is always motion in the cell, but when stressors come, those motions can actually stop. When they stop, the cell dies,” said Dr. Alexzander Asea, a professor in The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “Heat shock proteins prevent that from happening.”
By wrapping themselves around other proteins, heat shock proteins preserve order and essential functions within the cell, ensuring it can survive.
Asea has studied heat shock proteins for more than 20 years. His work has been key in identifying and developing potential targets for cancer vaccines and in identifying new cancer biomarkers.
Recently, Asea collaborated with Dr. Punit Kaur, an assistant professor also in the Department of Medicine, to edit a new textbook called “Regulation of Heat Shock Protein Responses.”“The book provides the most comprehensive review on contemporary knowledge on the regulation of heat shock protein responses and the consequences to human diseases and disorders,” Asea said. “Since we know heat shock proteins have a very important role in regulating a sort of immune response against stress, many have been working on designing drugs targeting that action.”
The book, published by Springer Nature, is available in both digital and print versions.
Asea, who also is director of the new Precision Therapeutics Proteogenomics Diagnostics Center, joined UToledo in 2018 from MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, where he was a visiting professor of radiation oncology. He also has taught at Harvard Medical School, the Boston University School of Medicine and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
At UToledo, Asea is playing an important role in furthering the precision therapy cancer treatment program by using proteogenomics to better understand an individual patient’s disease so doctors can identify the specific targeted therapies that are most likely to help them.
“It’s a more wholistic approach. For precision medicine, we have to look at the whole human and not just part of the human,” he said. “That’s what makes medicine now really exciting.”