Some of the world’s foremost researchers investigating the mechanisms by which cells communicate with one another convened in Doha at a conference hosted by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) recently. Eighteen international experts in the field of cell signaling gave presentations, explaining the very latest advances in what is considered a highly dynamic and complex research area.

Dr Khaled Machaca

Cell signaling refers to a wide range of communication processes occurring at the cellular level, which govern many activities of cells, making life possible. Cell signaling coordinates essential cell processes like tissue repair, growth and immune response; errors in these processes are involved in many serious illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr Khaled Machaca, WCM-Q Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, specialises in the study of calcium and its role in cell signalling.

Understanding the molecular mechanisms governing cellular signalling, including calcium signaling, is essential to develop novel therapies to treat diseases. Ultimately the regulation of homeostasis happens in large part at the cellular and molecular level. Such understanding is important to tackle complex diseases and  identify more effective therapies.’

The two-day ‘Signaling at Membrane Contact Sites’ conference brought expert speakers to Doha from all over the world. The lab of one of the speakers, Dr Stefan Feske, associate professor at the New York University School of Medicine, investigates the role of ion channels in controlling immune response, with the ultimate goal of identifying drug targets for immunotherapy.

If you can identify modulators of ion channels that control immune cells that are involved in inflammatory response, it may be possible to manipulate these channels or their modulators to suppress inflammation and treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or asthma.

He said that the big challenge, as with all drugs, is to find drug targets and therapies that specifically inhibit inflammation without causing detrimental side-effects.

For more information about the research programme at WCM-Q, visit their homepage at qatar-weill.cornell.edu.