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Study of ion channels could improve care for osteoporosis

Welcome to Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that introduces readers to some of Stanford’s most innovative biomedical researchers. 

Ion channels are similar to very sophisticated dog doors. They're specific, only allowing beloved Fido, not Rover from next door, to enter the house (cell).

And they play an integral role in the electrical signaling that underlies a variety of fundamental physiological processes. Merritt Maduke, PhD, associate professor of molecular and cellular physiology, studies these channels and in the video above, she lays out the puzzles that motivated her to study ion channels, and their kin, ion transporters. (In the dog door analogy, transporters are a door that propels Fido outdoors when he's feeling lazy). She says:

My interest in ion channels and transporters stems from the molecules themselves. How do they reside in the greasy, thin film of the membrane while at the same time making an aqueous pore that allows ions to cross that barrier? How do they select for certain ions over others? How are they regulated? How do they harvest energy using molecular motions to pump ions?

The answers to these questions may allow researchers to improve treatments for osteoporosis, a condition caused by the weakening of bones, which is spurred, in part due to ion channel-mediated acidification, Maduke says.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving biomedical innovation here.

Previously: Stanford hearing study upends 30-year-old belief on how humans perceive sound, New genetic regions associated with osteoporosis and bone fracture and Pediatrics group issues new recommendations for building strong bones in kids

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