Pathology News

Creating Hope

By Dustin Johnston | 18 February

Mark Schultz, PhD, a former research fellow in the Lieberman laboratory studying Niemann-Pick disease, is the newest faculty member of the Department of Pathology after being promoted to Research Investigator on January 1, 2019. “Mark's been a terrific member of our laboratory.” Dr. Lieberman said, “He's been a highly productive postdoctoral fellow and his research is on a strong trajectory as he transitions to become a faculty member in Pathology. I'm delighted he'll be continuing to work with us.”

Schultz has been studying childhood-onset neurodegenerative diseases since 2008 when he was working on his PhD at the University of Iowa under the mentorship of Beverly Davidson, PhD. There he focused on a Batten disease called juvenile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses. He then joined the Lieberman lab in 2014 and shifted his focus to another lysosomal storage neurodegenerative disorder, Niemann-Pick Type C.

Niemann-Pick Type C is a rare neurodegenerative disease that predominantly affects children. It is a genetic disorder characterized by loss-of-function mutations in the NPC1 gene which encodes the NPC1 protein. In short, this causes the protein to fold incorrectly, affecting how the lysosome in the cell transports cholesterol. The subsequent accumulation of the cholesterol can cause neurodegeneration, enlargement of the liver or spleen, and other serious and often fatal symptoms. Although there are therapeutics in a clinical trial, there are currently none available to patients. Schultz hopes that by investigating the NPC1 protein degradation he can better understand the complexity of protein folding and eventually open avenues for new therapeutics for this and other similar diseases.

“All of us work on very different projects and the diversity of expertise and ideas causes our lab meetings to be really productive. This allows us to tackle projects from multiple angles which greatly improves our work.”

“We’ve made some really big strides in understanding how proteins are degraded,” Schultz says, looking back on his research. “We will continue to leverage that so we can develop something that can have an impact on patients clinically.”

Schultz will continue his work in the Lieberman lab alongside eight others who focus on neuro and muscular degenerative diseases. “All of us work on very different projects,” he explained, “and the diversity of expertise and ideas causes our lab meetings to be really productive. This allows us to tackle projects from multiple angles which greatly improves our work.” Outside of his lab, Schultz also strives to improve his work by attending at least two science talks a week, preferably on topics outside of his expertise. This intentional departure from his “scientific comfort zone” helps him to develop new ideas and even question if his own data are revealing alternative interpretations.

Lab Assistant, Ruth Azaria(left) and Mark Schultz(right) working in the Lieberman Lab. Looking back on his first five years at the University of Michigan and in the Lieberman lab, Schultz is extremely grateful for having Dr. Lieberman as a mentor. He appreciates the freedom he’s had to explore his own ideas, all while getting exceptional feedback on his work. “Andy has had a tremendous impact on my knowledge of grants, science, and managing life,” he explained, “There is no way I could have made this transition without his help.”

Despite the complexity of protein folding, Schultz still considers time management to be his greatest challenge. In order to stay on top of conducting experiments, mentoring undergraduates and graduate students, grant writing, and preparing talks, he operates on a strict daily schedule to ensure everything gets done. He’s focused on obtaining his own independent funding and continuing to develop his research program.

His research is currently funded directly by two family organizations, Niemann-Pick Canada, and Hope for Marian. Both organizations are very active in the field and interact with multiple groups. Hope for Marian maintains an active blog and website, giving a very personal perspective on the reality of raising a child with Niemann-Pick.


Fun Facts About Mark Schultz

 
 

Mark always knew he wanted to be a scientist and had rock, insect, and fossil collections growing up.

 
 
 

Mark lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Kim, and his 2 cats.

 
 
 

In his spare time, he likes to fly-fish, hike, and backpack.

 
 
 

Mark recently completed "basic level 2" for ice skating.

 

 
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