Education
B.S., Cornell University
Ph.D., Columbia University

Email: etheil@chori.org
Phone: 510-450-7670
Fax: 510-597-7131

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Overview

Molecular BioIron

Iron is “a can’t live without it/can’t live with it” element! While 30% of the world suffers from iron deficiency and some genetic diseases involve too much iron, literally “rusting”, the competition for iron between people and invading bacteria is a continuous battle. Iron is used to catalyze key reactions in DNA synthesis, respiration, and photosynthesis. In living tissues, iron, which is very reactive and can, with oxygen and water produce free radicals, is safely accumulated in the special protein, ferritin. People, bacteria, plants and all other animals including insects and protozoa, depend on similar forms of ferritin. There is no other protein substitute.

How the ferritin protein works is a major project in the Theil Lab. Combinations of Genetic engineering and biophysical chemistry approaches probe how iron enters and leaves ferritin. The results will lead to drugs designed to deposit iron in and to remove the iron from ferritin safely and quickly, in diseases and will explain the molecular mechanisms for iron is absorption from ferritin in foods such as legumes, where it naturally abundant.

Controlling ferritin genes, so important to life that regulation is at two sites, DNA + mRNA, with loss of a single gene being lethal, is a second major research theme in the Theil lab. A special structure in ferritin DNA links ferritin to other antioxidant response genes and special structure in ferritin mRNA links ferritin to other protein for iron absorption and transport. Genetic signals and protein function put ferritin at the crossroads of iron and oxygen metabolism.

The unique combinatorial mRNA and DNA structures in the bioiron and bioxygen genes are leading to research on designer chemicals that manipulate mRNA and make novel iron chelators for diseases such as Sickle Cell Disease , Thalassemia, and Hereditary Hemochromatosis. Studies of ferritin protein pores are providing new ideas about the molecular absorption of dietary iron, especially from legumes, important in correcting iron deficiency anemia. Clinical research in medicine and nutrition translate the results of basic ferritin studies. Current goals are developing peptides that facilitate iron chelation in iron overload diseases and understanding the unique features of ferritin uptake and iron utilization for metabolic biology and nutrition.

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