Dr. Jan Rainey
Atomic medicine: Dr. Jan Rainey explores atomic mechanisms of heart muscle destruction
Dr. Jan Rainey is taking the closest possible look at how heart muscle is destroyed after a heart attack. He’s studying post-heart-attack damage at the smallest unit of matter – the atom.
“Complex as humans are, we are composed of atoms of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulphur, phosphorus and oxygen, along with some minerals like calcium, sodium and potassium,” notes Dr. Rainey. “But there are tens of thousands of atoms in a single molecule of protein.”
Dr. Rainey is exploring the atomic structure of a protein known to trigger cell damage immediately following a heart attack. “After a heart attack, a protein called the ‘sodium-hydrogen exchanger’ becomes more active and draws in more sodium than usual,” he explains. “This sets off a cascade of changes and events that contribute to subsequent damage.”
Charting the atomic structure of this protein will reveal the shapes of its sodium and hydrogen receptors – so a drug can be designed to bind with a receptor to disrupt the protein’s activity and halt the ongoing destruction. “It may be possible to protect the heart from this post-heart-attack damage,” he says. “This would preserve heart function and provide a much better chance of recovery.”
Dr. Rainey is also investigating the role of the sodium-hydrogen exchanger protein in diabetes. This protein functions at a slower rate in people with diabetes. Since it functions in every cell in the body, it may contribute to the many health complications experienced by diabetics.
Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation has provided Dr. Rainey with capital equipment funding to set up his lab. He joined Dalhousie as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology in November 2006, following postdoctoral training in world-renowned structural biology laboratory at the University of Alberta.