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Scholars

Xinnan Wang, MD, PhD

Xinnan Wang, MD, PhD

Stanford University

Disease Areas

Metabolic, Neuroscience


Focus

Targeting Mitophagy for Treating Parkinson's Disease


Scholar Profile

2021 Harrington Scholar-Innovator

A pioneer in the study of mitochondria, which are the body's cellular power plants, Dr. Xinnan Wang discovered how mis-regulation of a transport protein called Miro1 leads to buildup of mitochondrial waste that results in degeneration of brain cells (neurons). Dr. Wang's team was the first to link this breakdown to Parkinson's disease (PD), a leading cause of cognitive and physical disability afflicting 1% of Americans over age 60, and 4% over 80 years. Miro1 is a hopeful target for developing a new class of drugs to battle PD.

“As humans live longer lives, more people will suffer from the effects of neural degeneration,” Dr. Wang explains. “Our strategy to couple Miro1-based therapy with a Miro1-dependent companion diagnostic tool could benefit millions of people worldwide.”

Miro1 plays a role in keeping cells healthy through mitophagy, an intracellular mechanism that removes old, damaged mitochondria and cellular waste products. If this “housekeeping” process is malfunctional, cells become weakened. Tragically, patients are not diagnosed with PD until close to 50% of their brain cells are affected. Current drug therapy only treats the symptoms, including muscular tremors, speech, and mobility issues.

“With Harrington's help, our goal is to develop a blood test as well as an orally administered drug,” Dr. Wang says. “Having identified the Miro1 biomarker, we envision potential to treat people with PD not only when they already have the disease, but also to delay the disease with early treatment before symptoms begin in at-risk individuals.”