The Accelerating Excellence In Translational Science (AXIS)Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

Dr. Suzanne Porszasz-Reisz

Dr. Suzanne Porszasz-Reisz decided to pursue her career in research and education for two main reasons. First, she loved the process of discovery and the freedom of thought that this path offered her. Second, she had a great passion for teaching and passing on knowledge. Dr. Porszasz-Reisz has blended these two interests seamlessly throughout the years as she has explored the molecular biochemistry of pathways relevant to obesity, muscle atrophy, diabetes, cancer, COPD, kidney and heart disease, and much more. Dr. Porszasz-Reisz explains one key to her success: sheer perseverance. “Even when a student of mine has a ‘bad result,’ I’m always looking to find the good outcomes hidden in the bad.”

Dr. Porszasz-Reisz’s education began in Hungary. She received a Master of Science in Biology and Chemistry from Jozsef Attila University in Szeged, and a Ph.D. in Genetics/Biochemistry from that same institution in 1983. After working in chemical carcinogenesis for four years at UCLA, she went on to earn her second Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the National Academy of Sciences in Budapest in 1997. She also earned a Master of Science in Clinical Research from the NIH and CDU in 2007.

After holding various research and teaching positions in Hungary, Dr. Porszasz-Reisz became an Assistant Professor at CDU in 2000. Currently, Dr. Porszasz-Reisz is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Life Sciences at CDU, as well as Adjunct Assistant Professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. She is the author of numerous academic papers in high impact journals, such as Science. She is also a member of the American Diabetes Association, the Council on Undergraduate Research, the American Physiological Society, and EUROTOX.

For the last several years, Dr. Porszasz-Reisz has pursued a project related to the protein, myostatin. Previous research using mouse models has shown that myostatin levels during fetal development play a crucial role in determining both the muscle fiber type and number. For example, mice deprived of myostatin during development (and throughout the rest of their lives) seem to have more muscle fibers overall, as well as a higher percentage of glycolytic fibers (the type of fiber good for short bursts of power).

Dr. Porszasz-Reisz has focused on the role of myostatin in adults rather than embryos. To address her question, Dr. Porszasz-Reisz had to develop and use a conditional myostatin overexpressing transgenic (CMOT) mouse model (US patented). This allowed her to analyze what would happen if myostatin was overproduced in a mouse that had previously had normal levels of the protein.

The results were shocking. These mice appeared to have normal or even slightly smaller muscle size. Compared to normal animals, these mice could work much longer without tiring. Perhaps even more interestingly, these mice had huge stores of abdominal fat. This implies that in the adult, myostatin plays an important role in how muscles use energy and how glucose and fat are used and stored by the body. Dr. Porszasz-Reisz and her colleagues are now seeking to understand the exact molecular pathways involved, while focusing on the impact of variations like dietary changes and gender.

The potential therapeutic implications are significant. “Once we understand the role of myostatin in adults and its regulation in the human body, we can look for situations in which the gene is over-expressed. This may ultimately help us understand how to cure or prevent obesity, muscle atrophy due to aging or other medical problems, and possibly other medical conditions.”

This exciting project brings several students into her laboratory. Dr. Porszasz-Reisz always finds time to mentor students, ranging from high school students to postdoctoral fellows. Currently she is teaching Human Genetics, Cell Biology and Molecular Biology courses. She notes, “At CDU we have awesome students who ask very good questions.” She has some salient advice for young people considering their career options: “Get a job that you love ... then you will never get tired of it, no matter how difficult it is.”