On Tuesday 24th September, Dr. Markus A. Keller was honoured with the Award for the Best Doctoral Theses by the Austrian Chemical Society (GÖCH), Austria.
Dr. Keller investigated metabolic processes involved in the degradation of ether lipids, a special class of lipids with important inter- and intracellular signalling functions (e.g. platelet activating factor, PAF). He was especially interested in two membrane-bound enzymes implicated in this pathway (alkylglycerol monooxygenase and fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase) and in a severe, autosomal, recessive disorder in which this pathway is impaired, the Sjögren Larsson Syndrome (SLS).
By developing sensitive analytical approaches to investigate this pathway, he showed in patient cells that instead of the expected accumulation of fatty aldehydes, cells rerouted them into fatty alcohols, a compound class which was so far often unnoticed in the interpretation of Sjögren Larsson Syndrome symptoms. These novel methods also contributed to a better understanding of the interplay between fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase and alkylglycerol monooxygenase in ether lipid degradation and subsequently to the identification of the gene coding for alkylglycerol monooxygenase, which gave first insights into the structure-function relationship of this enzyme.
Each year, up to three awards are given to young scientists for outstanding achievements in their PhD projects. The award also includes 2000 Euro as further recognition of the scientist’s accomplishment. Dr. Keller’s PhD project was carried out in the group of Prof. Ernst R. Werner in Innsbruck. He now works as a post-doc in Dr. Ralser's group here in the Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge.