A Closer Look

A passion for biochemistry research could help people with muscular disease

Vital Signs » Summer 2022
Ren, Hongme

Muscular dystrophy is a group of inherited diseases characterized by weakness and wasting away of muscle tissue. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is one of nine types of muscular dystrophy, and one of four conditions known as dystrophinopathies.

Mutations in the gene coding for the protein dystrophin, responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of muscle membrane cells, causes membrane leakage and muscle wasting. People with DMD suffer physical disability, immobility, and, often, premature death. Currently, there is no cure.

Research underway at Wright State by Hongmei Ren, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, may lead to the development of a treatment for DMD patients.

Ren’s research focus is lipid metabolism and muscle biochemistry and physiology. In a recent publication, Ren revealed the critical role of the lipin1 gene in maintenance of muscle membrane integrity. She pointed out a deficiency in lipin1 alone can lead to compromised muscle membrane integrity and myopathy, as seen in people suffering from muscular diseases like DMD.

In 2021 Ren received an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and an Idea Development Award from the Department of Defense—totaling $2.4 million—to research gene therapy for DMD. “This will enable us to explore new research directions and help patients with DMD and other muscle-wasting conditions,” said Ren.

The awards were received in collaboration with her research team—Mark Rich, Ph.D., professor of neurology with BSOM, and professor of neuroscience, cell biology, and physiology with Wright State and BSOM; and Andrew Voss, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at Wright State.

Ren joined the faculty at Wright State in 2016. “Wright State has an ideal research environment, especially in muscle research,” she said. Ren says she is inspired by the impact of her work and enjoys sharing that inspiration. “I like to pass on my passion for biochemistry research to my students and help them pursue their careers in biological science,” Ren said. Many of her students have done remarkable and award-winning research, and several work for pharmaceutical companies, researching treatments for muscle disease. “Biochemistry is a science exploring cellular mechanics of various life processes. These insights can be applied via gene therapy, and other avenues, to improve lives,” added Ren.

Ren completed her postdoctoral training with the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Kentucky and earned a Ph.D. from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University. She earned her undergraduate degree from London Metropolitan University.

“We have found lipin1 therapy can reduce a wide range of symptoms, improve muscle function, and slow disease progression of dystrophic muscle,” said Ren. The research grant and awards Ren and her team received will enable further exploration of lipin1 as a novel alternative or complementary gene therapy in dystrophic muscles.

Ren said she has been approached often by families of patients with muscle disease, hopeful her research can help improve the lives of their loved ones. “I am proud of what I am doing. I hope my knowledge and research can help patients with DMD increase their lifespan and improve their quality of life,” Ren said, adding, “We may develop a treatment for DMD.”—Tom Byerlein

Last edited on 06/06/2022.