MitoCare Center Debuts at Jefferson

Jefferson's lead mitochondrial researcher, Gyorgy Hajnoczky, MD, PhD

Lead researcher Gyorgy Hajnoczky, MD, PhD

A research center focused on teasing apart the causes of mitochondrial diseases opens at Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson University recently launched the MitoCare Center within the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology to help uncover the causes of mitochondrial disease using cutting edge technology and researchers hailing from diverse disciplines.

The Center also plans to build an online resource for patients and physicians looking for more information about these diseases.

The newly renovated space on the 5th floor of Jefferson’s Alumni Hall will house the Center’s advanced microscopy facility, the mitochondrial metabolism facility, and other advanced systems that are helping reveal new aspects of mitochondrial biology.

The Center will be headed by Jefferson’s lead mitochondrial researcher, Gyorgy Hajnoczky, MD, PhD, and the inaugural faculty will also comprise Jan B. Hoek, PhD, Suresh K. Joseph, PhD, Gyorgy Csordas, MD, and Erin L. Seifert, PhD.  MitoCare will have strong ties to Wills Eye, the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson, the Center for Translational Medicine, and the Departments of Emergency Medicine, Neurology, Neuroscience, and Biochemistry.

“We are very excited to open the MitoCare Center at Jefferson and look forward to exploiting microscopic imaging and other advanced technologies to delineate the multiple emerging mechanisms by which mitochondria are involved in normal tissue function and human diseases” says Dr. Hajnoczky.

Between 1,000 and 4,000 children are born with a primary mitochondrial disorder every year, according to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, but many individuals with primary mitochondrial disease develop symptoms only in adulthood. In addition, emerging research suggests that malfunctioning mitochondria are also behind many common severe ailments including neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and heart disease.

Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, when they break down, the cell and the tissues made from those cells, lose energy and can’t function as efficiently, which explains why one of the early symptoms of the disease is muscle fatigue, or an inability to exercise.  Also, although mitochondrial diseases can be difficult to spot, they often share the characteristic that they affect more than three organ systems.

One of the long-term goals of the MitoCare Center is to build an online resource called iMitochondria that will help patients around the world connect with physicians that have expertise treating mitochondrial diseases connect via TeleHealth services.

“I often receive calls from patients looking for help with their illness,” says Dr. Hajnoczky. This resource would help meet that need.

The more immediate goal, however, is to uncover how changes in mitochondrial biology can cause disease. Research on mitochondria over the past two decades has undergone something of a renaissance. Not only do mitochondria provide much of the energy for the life-sustaining cellular machinery, but researchers have uncovered that they also help the cell make sense of signals from the environment that can change the cell’s behavior.

The MitoCare Center will also tap into its faculty’s expertise to study mitochondrial signals and energetics in living cells, in order to grasp how mitochondria affect cellular signaling.

In addition, far from the inert-looking pill-shaped squiggle depicted in many science textbooks, researchers now know that that mitochondria are actually more of a dynamic and fluid network of organelles that play a much bigger role in normal cellular function than had been realized. Jefferson’s microscopy facility has been at the leading edge of that research, helping scientists understand how mitochondria move, fuse together and split apart in real time.

The ribbon cutting event will be live-tweeted on Monday from 10 am to 11 am eastern time at #MitoCareOpen. Please join us on twitter for the festivities!

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