Marija Mihailovic wins a European Research Area Networks (ERA-NETs) grant to study the molecular mechanism of Autism spectrum disorder

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Marija Mihailovic, senior post-doctoral fellow in Giuseppe Testa’s lab, has recently been awarded a grant from the European Commission in the context of the European Research Area Networks (ERA-NETs). Marija Mihailovic coordinates a transnational research consortium including research groups in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Canada.

In the frame of the call for Proposals for Research Projects on “Translational Biomarkers in Brain Disorders”, the project, titled “Altered Translation in Autism – Altruism”, aims at identifying putative biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder, with emphasis on the mechanisms of protein synthesis.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by atypical social behavior and cognitive functions. 

«Despite the limited knowledge of the causes of the disease, dysregulated protein synthesis seems to play a critical role. Our team -explains Marija- will take advantage of a combination of the modern omic technologies to explore cell transcriptome, translatome and proteome in parallel with morphological and functional studies, by using neurons and brain organoids derived from induced pluripotent stem cells harboring mutations in genes which regulate protein synthesis (such as FMR1, PTEN, TSC1/2 and RPL10).»

Omic technologies represent the state of the art in biomolecular sciences. Enabling high throughput data generation and integration, allow for the investigation of biological processes as a whole. Omic sciences (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.) are marking a deep transformation in biomedical studies, revolutionizing the approach to patient treatment and allowing for the transition towards a personalized medicine approach, in which individuals are treated according to their unique biological features. 

Induced pluripotent stem cells are derived from differentiated cells of the skin or the blood, which are reprogrammed to an undifferentiated state from which they can be induced into, virtually, any type of cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells are widely used in biomedical research, as they represent a valuable tool to explore molecular mechanism of diseases.

«The ultimate goal of this project -continues Marija- is to discover biomarkers for autism -with emphasis on the mechanism of protein synthesis (mRNA translation)- which, on one side, will enable an efficient patient stratification, namely enabling to find the most appropriate treatment for each of them; on the other side, it will allow for the identification of potential new targets for a drug repurposing approach of existing therapies against translational regulators. Finally, to validate our findings, we will screen blood samples from 150 phenotyped patients to verify the newly identified biomarkers.»