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King Saud UniversityVisiting Professor Marco Colombini from the University of Maryland’s Department of Biology in College Park, Maryland, delivered lectures on apoptosis on Sunday and Monday, September 30 and October 1 at King Saud University’s Department of Biochemistry in the College of Science. Besides the many students, faculty, and others in attendance, the lectures were also broadcast live to the Center for Female Scientific and Medical Colleges in Al-Malaz.

Apoptosis is the process of programmed cell death (PCD) that occurs naturally in multi-cellular organisms.  Biochemical events lead to characteristic cell changes and death, and in the average human adult, 50 to 70 billion cells die each day due to apoptosis.

Dr. Colombini’s first lecture focused on the Voltage Dependent Anion-selective Channel (VDAC) protein, found in the mitochondria of all cells and which carves out a voltage-dependent positive ion selection channel on the outer mitochondrial membrane.  This channel controls the flow of metabolic particles between the cytosol (the intracellular fluid found inside cells) and the cell’s mitochondria, also known as the cell’s power producers. This causes the VDAC protein to control cell activity because the mitochondria house many metabolic functions which are important to the survival of organisms.

Dr. Colombini indicated that there are still many questions to be answered about this process, and also stated that world-wide advances in research to explore the voltage-dependent positive ion selection channels will lead to ground-breaking discoveries in the future.

King Saud UniversityThe second lecture was about programmed cell death (PCD).  This is a process by which damaged or unwanted/unneeded cells are eliminated via the secretion of the VDAC proteins from an organelle, which is a specialized sub-unit within a cell, usually separately enclosed within its own lipid bilayer.

Dr. Colombini discovered that PCD usually confers advantage during an organism’s life-cycle and serves fundamental functions in tissue development.  This is expected to trigger a revolution in the current understanding of PCD and will allow a much better understanding of many medical problems such as stroke, heart failure, and other debilitating diseases.

The broad objective of Dr. Colombini’s research is to understand how the molecular machines that drive the life processes in cells, work.  He has focused on the macromolecules, mainly proteins, that are lodged within cell membranes.

The professor attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, earning his B.S. in chemistry and biochemistry with honors in 1970, and his PhD in Biochemistry in 1974.  He was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in the Bronx, N.Y., 1974-76.  He has been at the University of Maryland since 1979, serving in various positions, and currently is the Director of the Biology Graduate Program.  He is also an Invited Lecturer at the International School of Biophysics of the Ettore Majorana Center in Erice, Italy.

Dr. Colombini has been a contributor to many relevant publications, has earned many recognitions and honors, and is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes.  While at the University of Maryland, he has mentored 14 PhD recipients and 15 M.S. recipients.

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