Gregorio Valdez, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute
Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, College of Science, Virginia Tech
Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
Gregorio Valdez, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, works to discover molecules that protect synapses from the ravages of aging as well as age-related neurological diseases.
Valdez’s laboratory is invested in discovering and manipulating molecules that prevent the destruction of synapses. Much of his work involves studying the interface between motor neurons and muscle synapses—a structure known as the neuromuscular junction. This critical junction is a large and readily accessible synapse that is significantly affected by normal aging and the progression of diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Valdez’s laboratory is trying to identify new molecules and signaling pathways that serve to protect and maintain healthy synapses.
“There is evidence that as an individual ages, their cells—specifically the motor neuron skeletal muscles—begin to give in to mutations and other factors that cause ALS and other age-related deteriorations,” says Valdez. “We think that preventing this loss of a cell’s ability to repair itself, using growth factors or other molecules we discover, can be a way to slow aging and diseases like ALS.”
Valdez uses a number of molecular and imaging techniques, including chronic in vivo imaging, genetic manipulations, and viral-based vectors. His hope is that some of these molecules, in addition to maintaining the neuromuscular junction, will also help maintain the proper functioning of brain synapses.
Valdez has won a K01 award from the National Institutes of Health, which will support his laboratory with $678,000 over three years to investigate a specific subset of growth factors that may help realize these goals. The grant is designated for tenure-track researchers less then three years removed from their postdoctoral positions to help flesh out their ideas and become more competitive for larger awards.
“I recognized a link that led me to test three growth factors that seem to play a role in the health of the neuromuscular junction,” says Valdez. “The preliminary evidence my laboratory has produced is tantalizing enough that the National Institutes of Health said, ‘Go for it.’”
Valdez, who is also an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the City University of New York. He then completed a doctorate in neurobiology and behavior at Stony Brook University. Valdez then joined Harvard University as a senior postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology before joining the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.