The Hormel Institute Scientist Awarded $1.5 Million for Research That Could Lead to New Treatments for Several Rare Diseases

The Hormel Institute’s CryoEM, one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes, will be used in this research.

AUSTIN, Minn – The Hormel Institute’s Amer Alam, PhD, Assistant Professor and leader of the Structural Biology and Membrane Transport research section, has received a grant titled “Molecular basis of fatty acid transport by peroxisomal ABC transporters.” The four year, $1.5 million R01 grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The metabolism of fatty acids is essential for the cells in our bodies to grow. Structures within cells called peroxisomes are central to fatty acid metabolism. This project focuses on understanding how large fatty acids can enter peroxisomes where they can be broken down. Entry is facilitated by three large molecules in a family of proteins called ABC transporters that use energy to shuttle fatty acids into peroxisomes.  When the function of these transporters is impaired, several metabolic and neurological diseases can arise, including X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD). X-ALD is a genetic disease that affects the nervous system and adrenal glands and occurs in approximately 1 in every 15,000 people around the world.

“There are no cures for diseases like X-ALD that are caused by improperly functioning peroxisomal fatty acid transport,” said Dr. Alam. “The results of this research will allow for a greater understanding of the exact role the transporters play in this process and how they can be targeted for clinical therapy of the diseases they are involved in.”

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is a pioneer in research and therapy for leukodystrophies like X-ALD, including bone marrow transplants, often the only treatment for patients suffering from these devastating pathologies.

“This grant will provide a pathway to bridge basic and clinical research and open up new directions in working with scientists in the dedicated UMN Leukodystrophy Center to advance our understanding into disease pathogenesis and potential therapeutic interventions,” said Dr. Alam.

Dr. Alam will use The Hormel Institute’s CryoEM, one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes, in this research. Cryo-em technology allows scientists to see the structure of some of the smallest parts of our bodies – down to the near-atomic level. Thanks to the support of The Hormel Foundation, The Hormel Institute’s CryoEM was added as part of the 2016 expansion.