This year, the John. J. Abel Award in Pharmacology was given to Kirill Martemyanov PhD, Professor and Co-Chair of the Department of neuroscience at The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida. Dr. Martemyanov joins an amazing list of young investigators interested in fundamental research in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics who have been recognized by the award, which was named after the founder of ASPET and established way back in 1946.
The overall goal of Dr. Martemyanov’s research focuses on the molecular control of G protein signaling, and recognizing how G protein signaling pathways are organized and regulated in the retina, the heart and the brain. G protein coupled receptors, or GPCRs, are some of the most ubiquitous signaling proteins found in in the human body and act as receptors for a large range of molecules, and therefore play essential roles in multiple physiological processes.
More specific focus has been on investigating mechanisms of GPCR signal decoding, which is not without its challenges given how intrinsically complex GPCR signaling is, due in large part to the diversity of alpha subunit substrates. They therefore have helped develop and implement reporter based assay systems that can even monitor GPCR signaling in living cells. By using a combination of agonists to turn on the receptors and antagonists to turn them off, they can collect GPCR “fingerprints” to characterize GPCR alpha subunit activities using different parameters including amplitude and kinetics.
Any information gathered on GPCR activity can have a considerable impact on how we understand and treat human disease, and another major focus of Dr. Martemyanov’s lab is on the role of GPCR’s in pharmacogenomics and disease. This is especially important in addiction, specifically to opioids, given that opioid receptors are GPCRs. The United States is currently in the middle of an opioid crisis, with these narcotics being abused by millions, but it is interesting to note that responses to opioids vary considerably in humans, which can again be attributed to the complexity of GPCRs. Therefore, further research into these receptors can help tailor medication to specific variants and play a role in future precision medicine. Other pathologies being studied in his lab in the context of GPCRs include dystonia, developmental delay, ADHD and melanoma.
His research has further expanded to create an experimental pipeline for evaluating the functional impact of genetic variation of GPCRs using flexible codes based on different alpha subunit engagement and can do so in a using high throughput methods. Overall, although he is considered a young investigator, Dr. Martemyanov’s contributions to science have been exemplary and well deserving of this recognition, and I look forward to reading about his progress in the years to come!