Ph.D. student wins Tabor award
for long-distance factor work

Published November 01 2017

Ilia Droujinine was nominated for the JBC/Tabor award in July after the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology conference, Glucose Transport: Gateway to Metabolic Systems Biology. Courtesy of ilia droujinine

How do complex multicellular organisms coordinate the functions of distant tissues and organs to facilitate whole-system responses to stimuli? How does one small signaling molecule secreted in one area of an organism travel long distances to communicate with a distant organ? These are the questions Harvard graduate student Ilia Droujinine is addressing, and for his work on the proteomics of protein trafficking in the underexplored area of long-distance biological communication, he is a recent winner of the Journal of Biological Chemistry/Herb Tabor Young Investigator Award.

Complex organisms must be able to coordinate multiple tissues and organs to maintain homeostasis as a whole system. To do this, organisms use secreted factors to perform long-distance biological communication, although the mechanism for this is still largely a mystery. Droujinine’s work builds on this theme by developing methods for systematic identification of interorgan communication factors.

Using Drosophila as a model organism, Droujinine and colleagues established a novel high-throughput technique for identifying proteins that were trafficked from one organ directly to another for communication. The researchers then were able to use organ-specific mutants to characterize the explicit functions of these factors as interorgan communicators. This method is widely applicable and could be used to understand the function of these communication factors in many model organisms, including mammals. Deeper understanding of long-distance communication factors is important for unraveling how local organ misfunction, such as kidney failure, can have widespread systemic effects that go far beyond what is thought to be the organ’s primary function.

“This research is important because many diseases have systemic effects, and the functions of organs are interconnected with one another,” Droujinine said. “Many of the factors we identified are conserved to mammals, and further research will determine the function of these factors in mammals.”

Droujinine was nominated for the award by JBC Associate Editor Jeffrey Pessin after the Glucose Transport: Gateway to Metabolic Systems Biology meeting in July.

“At the meeting, he truly stood out as an outstanding young scientist at several levels,” Pessin said. “His oral and poster presentation was outstanding in terms of his understanding and creativeness, and the project itself is highly novel and cutting-edge. His work will provide the scientific community with a powerful new approach to perform in vivo proteomics to identify tissue-specific secreted protein factors.”

Droujinine received his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry at the University of Waterloo in 2011 before joining Norbert Perrimon’s lab at Harvard Medical School to pursue his Ph.D. His work in the lab has been supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council postgraduate scholarship, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and the Harvard Medical School Department of Cell Biology Innovation Grant Program. After six years at Harvard, his interest in long-distance biological communication is stronger than ever.

“My favorite part of research is making sense of results after years of investigation,” Droujinine said. “I want to continue a career in academia after I graduate with my Ph.D., pursuing my interest in identifying factors involved in long-distance biological communication.”

Amber Lucas Amber Lucas is a graduate student in the department of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.