Mary-Ellen Harper is a Professor in the Mitochondrial Bioenergetics Laboratory Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.
The overall aim of the research projects conducted in the Harper lab is to better understand the control of cellular energy transduction processes in health and disease.
In particular, Dr. HarperÌs laboratory investigates the metabolic significance and control of uncoupling proteins (UCPs). UCPs are a subfamily of the mitochondrial carrier protein family and are located in the mitochondrial inner membrane. They have been hypothesized to cause a mitochondrial proton leak, and thereby allow protons to return to the mitochondrial matrix, bypassing ATP synthase. Thus energy substrates are oxidized, and the energy is released (or "wasted") as heat, instead of being converted to ATP. The function of such seemingly wasteful processes is a major interest of the lab. The role of uncoupling proteins in protection from reactive oxygen species, and cell death, is an expanding research interest of the laboratory group, and has implications for an improved understanding of cell death and aging processes.
Dr. HarperÌs research group uses integrative approaches spanning from bioenergetic studies of isolated mitochondria, to transfected cell cultures, to transgenic mice, and to clinical investigations. Clinical projects are conducted in collaboration with Dr. Robert Dent (Ottawa Hospital), and Dr. Ruth McPherson (University of Ottawa Heart Institute). Experimental techniques include: gene transfection, transgenics and knockouts, self-referencing microelectrode technologies, metabolic control analysis, oxygen and ion-selective electrodes, real-time PCR, Western blotting, and various forms of fluorescence microscopy.