13 March 2017
Marian Blanca Ramírez from the Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine López-Neyra at the CSIC in Spain has been studying the effects of LRRK2, a protein associated with Parkinson’s disease, on cell motility and its association with stable microtubules. Her PhD research had led her to hypothesise that increased association between LRRK2 and microtubules might alter cell motility. To help her test this hypothesis, she applied for a Travelling Fellowship from the Journal of Cell Science to spend time in Prof Maddy Parson’s lab at King’s College, London, learning how to perform 2D and 3D cell migration assays.There, she used fibroblasts expressing endogenous LRRK2 in a physiologically relevant model, but found no effect of a LRRK2 kinase inhibitor on cell motility. The most common cause of Parkinson’s disease identified to date is mutation G2019S in the LRRK2 kinase gene, which causes a hyperactive form of LRRK2 kinase to be expressed. At the Parson lab, Marian analysed fibroblasts derived from skin biopsies taken from Parkinson’s disease patients carrying the G2019S mutation and found higher migration velocity in 2D migration assays, and potentially also in 3D assays. While at King’s College, Marian attended weekly seminars, journal clubs and ‘supergroup’ meetings discussing current findings on cell motility. She had the chance to present her data in lab meetings, receiving input and new ideas to incorporate into her research back in Spain, and was invited to give a talk at The Open University to present some of her preliminary data. Marian reflects how her Travelling Fellowship from The Company of Biologists allowed her to interact with a lot of people in and out of the field, and to build a network of collaborators to support her in taking her work forward.