Plenary Lecture

Plenary Lecture

New Insights into the Etiology of Human Disease by Probing the Bioinorganic Chemistry of the Bloodstream

Assistant Professor Jurgen Gailer
Department of Chemistry and
BSc Environmental Science Program
University of Calgary
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4

Abstract: Despite extensive research, the etiology and the biomolecular origin of many grievous human diseases, including Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, remains poorly understood and is regarded by many as one of biology’s biggest challenges in the 21st century. In view of the fact that the human genome project has so far been rather insufficient in providing much needed insight into the origin of human diseases, we are left with ‘environmental factors’ as potential root causes. This proposition is quite relevant today since the industrial revolution, which started in ~1800, essentially transformed man into a global biogeochemical force. The massive consumption of fossil fuels, for instance, has already increased the CO2 concentration of the earth’s atmosphere and thus perturbs the biogeochemical carbon-cycle on a global scale. What is generally much less appreciated – but nonetheless of considerable importance with regard to elucidating the origin of human diseases – is the notion that anthropogenic activities have also progressively increased the mobilization of toxic metals and metalloid compounds from the earth’s crust into the global environment. The concomitant increased dietary exposure of certain human populations to these persistent pollutants and their subsequent absorption into the systemic blood circulation are therefore of increasing concern. Although the average concentrations of several toxic metals and metalloids in human blood are now firmly established, their interpretation with regard to their health relevance is exceedingly difficult. The aforementioned lack of understanding the etiology of human disease combined with the detection of several inorganic environmental pollutants in human blood suggests that a better understanding of the bioinorganic chemistry of toxic metals and metalloid compounds in the bloodstream may contribute to establish functional connections between the exposure to certain metals and specific human diseases. To this end, we have elucidated the erythrocyte-mediated bioinorganic basis for the antagonistic interaction between the environmentally abundant inorganic pollutants arsenite and mercuric mercury with the essential ultra trace element selenium in the bloodstream. After a brief discussion of the health relevance of these findings, a promising proteomic approach is introduced which is eminently suited to provide additional new insights into other disease-relevant bioinorganic chemistry processes in the mammalian bloodstream.

Brief Biography of the Speaker:
I received my PhD from the Institute for Analytical Chemistry of the Karl-Franzens University Graz, Austria in 1997. As an Erwin Schrodinger fellow, I subsequently joined the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology of the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ, USA) and thereafter worked as a research associate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences (University of Arizona). Between 2001 and 2002, I was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health (Munich, Germany). In 2003, I joined Boehringer Ingelheim Austria, where I was the team leader for their downstream biopharmaceutical production plant in Vienna until 2004. I then started as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry of the University of Calgary in 2004.



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