Peter Todd, M.D., Ph.D
Bucky and Patti Harris Professor of Neurology
Our lab studies how nucleotide repeat expansions lead to neurological disease with an aim of developing novel treatments based on mechanistic insights. Specifically, we study how repeats as RNA bind to proteins and prevent them from performing their normal functions. We also study how repeats support translation of toxic proteins in the absence of an AUG start codon through a process known as RAN translation.
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- What are your research interests? Over half of our genomes are made up of repetitive elements, yet we understand very little about their roles in normal gene functions or in human diseases. Our lab studies how instability and expansion of specific nucleotide repeats lead to neurological disease with an aim of developing novel treatments based on mechanistic insights. Specifically, we study how repeats as RNA bind to proteins and prevent them from performing their normal functions. We also study how repeats support translation of toxic proteins in the absence of an AUG start codon through a process known as RAN translation. More recently we have begun using long read sequencing and bioinformatic approaches to define the native roles repetitive elements play within our genomes to influence mRNA transcription and translation more broadly, with implications for both normal gene functions and common disease genetics.
- Who/what brought you to science? As a physician scientist, I was drawn early on to questions about how diseases occur and how they might be prevented. At the same time, I have a deep appreciation for the complexity of biology and the value of understanding mechanisms by which mutations cause disease. Combining these two loves led me to pursue the bench-to-bedside model whereby we can work on clinically relevant questions using fundamental molecular, genetic and neurobiological tools with the aim of achieving a breakthrough in our research that can benefit patients.
- What advice would you give to students who’d like to get more involved in research? Research is fulfilling over a lifetime- I am always learning and always asking questions. I also think there is great value in being both a clinician and a scientist, as each offers complementary rewards and challenges that both motivate and keep one engaged over a long and exciting career track.
- Are there any opportunities for students to engage in your projects, currently or in the future? We are always recruiting smart, driven and independent minded people to join our lab and pursue new ideas. Watching great students and post-docs grow and succeed is one the great joys of being a faculty at a world-class institution like Michigan.
- What skills would they need, and what could they expect to learn? People in the Todd lab have to be willing to try new things, we open to asking questions and working collaboratively with others, and be interesting in having a lot of fun doing science.
- What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I have the best job in the world right now, but if I was going to try something else, I might consider being a travel writer. I love travelling and seeing new things and getting paid to do so (which science also allows for partially) would be a great career.