Research Update from 2015 UMDF Grant Recipient Sara Nowinski, PhD

In 2015, Sara Nowinski, PhD received a $70,000 grant award for her work “Characterizing the Function of the Atypical Mitochondrial Kinase ADCK3.” Dr. Nowinski’s work endeavored to improve the understanding of ADCK3 function in the synthesis of coenzyme Q and cerebellar ataxia.

We recently caught up with Dr. Nowinski to learn more about how her work has evolved since 2015.

An Update from Sara Nowinski, PhD of the Nowinski Laboratory, Van Andel Institute

“The support I received from UMDF as a postdoctoral fellow launched my career by supporting the early years of my postdoctoral training.

“As for my UMDF-funded project on ADCKs, my collaborators on that project in Dave Pagliarini’s lab kept working on ADCKs and I pivoted based on new data. Through studying protein-protein interactions with the ADCKs, I found that the mitochondrial acyl carrier protein (ACP) was interacting not only with the ADCKs, but also with a whole family of Electron Transport Chain (ETC) assembly factors. I went on to show how those interactions depend on acylation of ACP and the mitochondrial fatty acid synthesis pathway (mtFAS) to guide ETC assembly, and when mtFAS is impaired, ETC assembly is impaired as well. This resulted in two papers during my postdoctoral work, one based on findings in yeast cells (Van Vranken et al. Mol. Cell 2018) and one in mammalian cells (Nowinski et al. eLife 2020). We also just completed a paper describing a novel MePAN syndrome patient mutation in the mtFAS gene MCAT that shows the same phenotype! Today, my whole lab works on mtFAS; so my UMDF project truly did launch the research that has blossomed into my work today.

“The research I did as part of my UMDF-funded project laid the foundation that led to my current research directions, and gave me the skills that I now teach trainees in my own independent lab. The UMDF symposium was also my first opportunity to interact with patients and their caregivers, which I found incredibly inspiring and wonderful motivation to continue working in rare mito diseases.”