Bioenergetics and Mitochondrial Disease

Program Leader: Dr. Shilpa Iyer
Team Leaders and Mentors: Raj Rao (Chemical and Life Science Engineering), Sarah Faris (Communication Arts), Edward Lesnefsky (McGuire V.A. Medical Center); Russell Jamison (Summer at daVinci Works), Eugene Maurakis (Science Museum of Virginia), Frank Heller (Science Museum of Virginia), Laura Hughes (Science Museum of Virginia);

Support: National Institute of Health (1R15NS080157-01A1); VCU Quest for Innovation Fund; Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr., Endowment for Engineering Education; Summer at daVinci Works Program; Dean’s Office, School of Engineering; Dean’s Office, School of the Arts; Pollack Society Student Scholarship; Patients and Families of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, Central VA Chapter.

Bioenergetics is the study of the flow of energy in living systems within specialized cellular compartments called ‘Mitochondria‘. They are the energy powerhouses of the cell. Mitochondria create more than 90% of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth. When the mitochondria have problems, the energy our cells need to make our body work is diminished; and this can cause disease and aging. The diseases primarily affect children, but adults also are affected.

Diseases of the mitochondria affect the cells of the brain, heart, liver, muscles, kidney, the endocrine and respiratory systems.  Symptoms may include loss of motor control, muscle weakness and pain, gastro-intestinal disorders and swallowing difficulties, poor growth, cardiac disease, liver disease, diabetes, respiratory complications, seizures, visual/hearing problems, lactic acidosis, developmental delays and susceptibility to infection.

Bioenergetics and mitochondrial research at VCU-School of Engineering

The Bioenergetics and mitochondrial research program broadly involves understanding the genetics of and developing therapies for childhood and age-related mitochondrial diseases. We are generating patient-specific stem cells to facilitate therapies and understand cause and progression of mitochondrial diseases. Skin cells from a patient diagnosed with mitochondrial and other energy-deficiency diseases are being genetically reprogrammed into stem cells, and then transformed into neurons and muscle cells. Further studies will lay out the many steps in cellular bioenergetics that will help in understanding how stem cells are transformed into neurons and muscle cells in normal and diseased patients.



Bioenergetics and mitochondrial education at VCU-School of Engineering

The Bioenergetics and mitochondrial educational program is a collaborative effort between faculty and students in the Schools of Engineering and Arts. Outcomes include generation of novel educational modules to educate and inspire the public towards better understanding the importance of mitochondria and to make healthy lifestyle choices that can impact energy levels in our body. Our efforts resulted in a 3-month long exhibition to at the Science Museum of Virginia (March-June 2015).


Click here for more information on Bioenergetics @ VCU.