Nora Kory is fascinated by mitochondria, tiny compartments in the cell that carry out critical functions in health and get co-opted in disease. These organelles not only produce energy — hence their nickname “powerhouse of the cell” — but also churn out the biochemical raw materials for manufacturing lipids, nucleotides, and proteins.
A postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and a former Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation HHMI Fellow, Kory concentrates on how mitochondria make metabolism more efficient, dynamically adjusting the fuels they make to what the cell needs. She drills down deeper to study how biochemical materials are transported through the mitochondria’s membrane into the cell.
“It’s a big passion of mine, a different aspect of my personality to sing together with other people and with an orchestra.”
Cancer changes that delicate balancing act of mitochondrial production and cellular needs, rewiring cancer cells’ metabolism. Kory discovered a transporter in the mitochondrial membrane that brings a certain amino acid into cells, a clue to solving the larger mystery of how cancer exploits some mitochondrial pathways to feed rapid tumor growth in cancer.
Ultimately, she hopes her research might reveal targets for therapies that would attack the by-products of mitochondrial metabolism hijacked by cancer.
Such potential therapies would fall into a new class known as antimetabolite therapeutics.
Studying microscopic compartments of the cell make up just one side of Kory. Originally from Germany, she has sung in choruses all her life. A mezzo-soprano, she now sings with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Mahler symphonies are a favorite.
“They connect to something bigger, something very spiritual,” she said. “It’s a big passion of mine, a different aspect of my personality to sing together with other people and with an orchestra.”
— Andrew Joseph