The laboratory of Jim Maher, Ph.D., has three major interests. Researchers study how DNA is bent and looped by proteins, and how this bending is involved in the control of gene expression. The group also studies how small DNA and RNA strands can be selected for the ability to fold into shapes (aptamers) that might artificially control genes or treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Finally, the laboratory studies cancers, such as familial paraganglioma, caused by genetic defects in energy metabolism. These studies involve model systems including molecules, bacteria, yeast, nematode worms, mice and human cells.
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- DNA flexibility. Double-stranded DNA is among the stiffest polymers in nature, yet it must be tightly bent and looped in cells. Dr. Maher's lab studies the origin of DNA stiffness and how proteins enhance its flexibility.
- Artificial gene regulation. Dr. Maher's research team studies how short DNA and RNA molecules can be selected from random libraries for the ability to tightly bind and inhibit proteins in living cells. These studies seek to develop new approaches to artificial gene regulation in cancer and inflammatory diseases.
- Multiple sclerosis. Collaborative research in Dr. Maher's lab involves work on folded nucleic acid shapes to stimulate regeneration of the central nervous system after damage due to multiple sclerosis.
- Paraganglioma. Dr. Maher's team is also using model organisms to better understand the genetic and biochemical basis of human familial paraganglioma, a cancer caused by a defect in energy metabolism.
Significance to patient care
Investigation in Dr. Maher's lab combines basic research with translational research; researchers learn how biological systems work and apply that basic understanding to diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, where current approaches can be improved. History teaches that the revolutionary discoveries that transform health care often come from the research of curious scientists studying problems seemingly unrelated to human health and disease.
- Dean, Mayo Graduate School, Mayo Clinic, 2012-2019
- Associate editor, Nucleic Acids Research journal, 1995-present