Issues in Metal Homeostasis

microscopic image of liver.

Students will research multiple issues relating to iron metabolism in animals and humans, as they relate to genetic and acquired diseases.

Project description

Our lab is interested in multiple issues relating to iron metabolism in animals and humans. From the practical viewpoint, iron is an important nutrient, but its ability to act in the ferrous and ferric state also makes it toxic. Thus iron deficiency is the most frequent disorder in the world and hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is the most common Mendelian disorder in the USA.

The research is related to differentiation on the fundamental level and to genetic and acquired diseases on the applied level. Recently new vistas have opened for the anemia of chronic diseases for example, leading to re-examination of how microbes and their hosts (us) fight for iron. We approach these issues by working on rodent models and focus now on the Belgrade rat plus a series of genetically engineered mice. The rat has a hypochromic, microcytic anemia inherited as an autosomal recessive. The defect is in an iron transporter called DMT1 (previously Nramp2 or DCT1) that is responsible for iron uptake by enterocytes and immature red blood cells and is also responsible for iron exiting endosomes in the transferrin cycle. The rats appear to have a severe iron deficiency. Although dietary iron and iron injection increase the number of RBCs, they do not restore the RBCs nor the rat itself to a normal phenotype. Past students have worked on the nature of the anemia, on the response to iron supplementation, on gastrointestinal iron uptake or on the serum levels of iron and iron binding capacity, on the levels of iron regulatory proteins (IRPs) in tissues.

Recent discoveries show that DMT1 is ubiquitous and responsible for transport of multiple other metals such as Mn and Ni. It occurs in the kidney, brain and lung at even higher levels than in the GI tract or in erythroid cells. It also has multiple isoforms and we have cloned them and developed cell lines that express high levels of particular isoforms. We have specific antibodies to the isoforms and assays for each of the mRNAs too. Future projects in this lab will continue to address whether DMT1 is dysregulated in HH, tackle how DMT1 functions in neurons, pneumocytes and other tissues, look at isoforms of DMT1 under circumstances where we suspect that they must have different functions from one another, and examine DMT1's relevance to iron metabolism and human disease. Because we recently cloned the gene and identified the mutation, a number of molecular and cellular approaches can now be used. As evidence indicates that metal ion homeostasis fails in Huntington's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease, research on DMT1 has opened new vistas for these disorders too.

Project outcome

The specific outcomes of this project will be identified by the faculty mentor at the beginning of your collaboration. 

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment

Students in my lab wait until they are sure they want to do a project of 1 year or longer before they commit to signing up for credit so they can avoid any risk of an incomplete

*Note that Michael Garrick is retiring at the end of 2023

Start time Anytime
In-person, remote, or hybrid?
Level of collaboration Projects are usually individual, but small group collaborations (2-3) sometimes develop
Benefits Academic Credit, Volunteer, Work Study
Who is eligible Should be ready to major in a Biological or Biomedical Science or have exceptional capabilities (like in honors program)
Goldwater and the National Science Foundation

Students participating in this project might be interested in and eligible for the Goldwater Scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Connect with the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships to learn more.

Project mentor

Michael Garrick



3A Cary Hall

Phone: (716) 829-3926


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

  • Only after a mutual agreement after an interview for admission to the lab will a student receive a list of several review papers and 1 or 2 research papers to read. Assimilating such papers is a real challenge for undergraduate researchers. After the student does so, they will receive a list of projects from which to choose. After the choice, more reviews or papers may be available depending on the choice. Access to posters by prior students on earlier work on the project could also develop.