Research into mitochondrial disease (mito) is a core pillar of Mito Foundation's work. Only through research will we one day find cures for mito and advancements to improve the quality of life for people impacted by mito.
Many hardworking researchers are committed to this goal, such as Dr Harrison Burgin, who conducts research into mitochondrial function to find potential targets for treatments.
We sat down with Dr Burgin to find out more about his work and its benefit to the mito community.
When did you first begin your work in mito research, and what attracted you to this field?
I always knew from a young age, I wanted to understand how things work. I was fascinated by science, completing my Bachelor of Science at Monash before going into my Honours year, but still not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I knew I loved biology, wanting to understand how living things grew and functioned. I did my Honours with Dr Matthew McKenzie at the Hudson Institute and began to learn more about the mitochondria, and how it provides energy to the cell, but can also do so much more. To me, this was a natural progression into wanting to understand how things work, and I’ve come to enjoy researching mitochondria. This led me to complete my PhD at Deakin University and undertake my postdoctoral role at Monash University with Prof. Mike Ryan, continuing to contribute to the research surrounding mitochondrial function.
In the time that you’ve researched mito, what are some of your findings that will help the mito community? How will they impact the lives of people with mito?
Most of my research has been investigating how mitochondria work, and how they are impacted in certain diseases. My research focused a lot on how changes in one key pathway of mitochondrial metabolism, impact other key pathways of mitochondrial metabolism. Mitochondria break down fats and sugars to generate energy, known as ATP. I investigated how the loss of one of the proteins involved in breaking down fats, ECHS1, was impacting other proteins involved in making energy. We found that there may be a physical interaction between these two pathways, providing an improved understanding of how the mitochondria function, and what may be going wrong in mito. This study was quite important as it was the largest study on this particular protein, ECHS1, to date, and also investigated possible targets for treatment.
What else have you seen in the field of mito research that may excite the community?
I’ve seen a few things recently that are really exciting for the mito community. The main thing is the sheer amount of research that is being done into mitochondria, how mitochondria function, how they can be damaged in disease, how they can be targeted for therapy to help in other diseases, and so much more. The amount of publications available about mitochondria has increased exponentially in the last few years, which is fantastic.
Data from PubMed as of 16.02.2022
There has also been a lot of interesting research into improving the diagnosis of patients suspected of mito and possible treatments for mito.
How has Mito Foundation helped in your research journey?
Mito Foundation helped my career as a mitochondrial researcher by providing funding that allowed me to complete a key series of experiments during my PhD. This series of experiments allowed us to see what else is happening in cells that have lost this key protein, ECHS1, and how our treatments may improve how cells respond. Mito Foundation also helped support my attendance at AussieMit 2022, where I was fortunate enough to engage with fellow mitochondrial researchers and meet the mito community. It was a really rewarding experience to meet the mito community, tell them a bit about my work, and give them hope that we are working towards improving our understanding and findings better treatment options.
What's next for you? Are there any potential breakthroughs on the horizon, and what needs to happen to bring those within reach?
Having just completed my PhD and started my postdoc position at Monash University, I am fortunate enough to continue to be able to research mitochondria. I am currently looking into how mitochondrial structure and function are related, exploring how the location of a specific protein may impact its function.
I’m excited by how much we learn about mitochondrial function, and how they play such key roles in disease.
The continued support of the Mito Foundation through its funding opportunities and community engagement will help with raising awareness for mito and drive the translation of research into treatments for mito.