BLOG

Posted on 23 June 2021 by Maria Marti Solano

Young Scientists at #LINO70: Maria Marti Solano – On the Way to a More Personalised Medicine

Structural details of an interaction between a GPCR, the muscarinic M3 receptor, and its endogenous ligand acetylcholine



Structural details of an interaction between a GPCR and its endogenous ligand acetylcholine. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Maria Marti Solano

Maria Marti Solano is working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College in Cambridge. She focuses on proteins that are relevant for the effect of medicines with a computational approach.

GPCR stands for G protein-coupled receptors. These receptors are widely distributed in our bodies to detect external signals such as odours, hormones or neurotransmitters and start appropriate responses inside our cells. Besides receiving such signals, these receptors are also targeted by the majority of drugs prescribed nowadays. When many of these drugs were discovered, there was barely any information available on how receptors were distributed in different tissues or how they differed in the population. This could help explain some of the side effects of current drugs or why individuals respond to some drugs differently.

Big Data Approach

I am trying to find out more about the functions of GPCRs. I am using computational methods to combine big data from different experimental sources. In this field of research there are still a lot of open questions: How do receptors recognise other proteins or small molecules and how do they transmit their message into our cells? How have receptors evolved to allow different mechanisms of cell-to-cell-communication? How do drugs affect the structure of receptors?

Maria Marti Solano in front of LMB
Maria in front of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

In my approach I take many factors into account: genomics, data about receptor protein sequences, structures and interactions, molecular dynamics, pharmacological information, etc. So I am collecting and integrating a lot of biological information that helps me to get an overview on the impact of cell-to-cell signals or drugs on receptor function. We are currently studying whether GPCR function is affected by being male or female, by age and other genetic factors, to see whether that can provide an explanation of why drugs work differently for different individuals in the population. In the long-term this approach can lead to a more individual and personalised medicine with drugs that are more efficacious and safer for the general population.

Impact of Corona on my Work

As a computational biologist I am not working in the lab in normal times, so it was possible for me to work from home. Despite the pandemic making things more complicated, since last spring I have completed a paper together with my collaborators that was accepted by Nature, have co-organised a virtual workshop and have tried to keep in touch with many colleagues even if we had to do so remotely. But I miss the social interaction with other scientists due to the pandemic. I’m particularly keen on restarting in person discussions with my group colleagues and with other GPCR experts I regularly meet at conferences to discuss results and talk about the design for new experiments.

Expectations for #LINO70

One reason for choosing a life as a scientist was the wish to never stop learning new things, so I am really looking forward to getting in contact with many other scientists during the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, even remotely. I like to talk to scientists from different disciplines and bridging different research fields is very important for my daily work, so I am happy to participate in #LINO70, which is a really interdisciplinary Lindau Meeting.

About This Series

Within the next weeks you will find more young scientists who are selected for #LINO70 on the blog to learn more about their career, their research and their plans for the future.

Further articles in this series:

Lučka Bibič about Science communication by gamification

Jayeeta Saha about a green pathway to generate hydrogen

Robert Mayer about the prediction of chemical reactions

Daniel Reiche about the work of a theoretical physicist

Anna Blakney about the next generation of RNA vaccines

Ravichandran Rajkumar about Open Science in neuroscience

Maria Marti Solano

Maria Marti Solano studied Biology and Biomedical Research in Barcelona where she completed her PhD in Biomedicine. Currently she is working as a postdoctoral research fellow in Cambridge at the Structural Studies Division of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Maria’s work at the LMB has been supported by the MRC, the Federation of European Biochemical Societies, and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Postdoctoral Fellowship.