Research and outreach with Dr. Colin Wu

Dr. Colin Wu is an associate professor of biochemistry here at Oakland University whose work mainly focuses on DNA repair mechanisms.

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Dr. Colin Wu is an associate professor of biochemistry here at Oakland University whose work mainly focuses on DNA repair mechanisms.

Dr. Colin Wu is an associate professor of biochemistry here at Oakland University.

“My work mainly focuses on DNA repair mechanisms,” Wu said. “We’re interested in how repair proteins in our cells recognize and fix DNA damage. Mutations in these proteins lead to genetic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

Wu went on to describe how his work is predominantly rooted in biochemistry, biophysics and cell biology. 

“Our approach is to express and purify our protein of interest that is related to DNA repair,” he said, “then sometimes we make wild type or normal protein as well as the ones carrying disease mutations or unknown mutations. And then we study their interactions with DNA: do they bind to damaged DNA with a higher or lower affinity, or maybe unchanged?”

He continued to describe the approach and main questions he is trying to answer through his work.

“What we then do is try to look at those same interactions in a cell — such as heart muscle cells, or in a cancer cell line, for example,” Wu said. “What happens to those cells? Are they more prone to DNA damage, are they more protected from damage? The goal is to try to correlate those two types of experiments.”

One collaborative project Wu is working on involves studying proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease. 

“In that project, we’re studying this tau protein which aggregates and forms these filaments that are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “You can imagine a similar thought process where we make and purify this protein, induce it to aggregate and then be able to visualize them on the microscope to see things such as how long are the filaments and how many branch points they have. Then we will look at maybe small molecules to try to disrupt those filaments as a potential type of treatment.”

In addition to this work, his work in DNA repair has taken more of a cardiovascular angle. 

“The goal was to look at the role of DNA damage on heart function,” Wu said. “We look at heart muscle cells, which contract, which are kind of fun to observe. Then we want to see the effects of any damage on the contract. 

In addition to research, Wu is very passionate about science outreach and making science accessible to students of all levels. He wants to demonstrate that science is not a scary thing like many people might believe it to be.

“As part of this NSF funded project we just started this past summer, we actually traveled to local high schools and demoed genetic testing on site using portable lab equipment — so the kids actually spit in a cup and isolate their own DNA, then we run a genetics test for lactose tolerance,” Wu said. “The interest has been overwhelming, so we are trying to expand this. OU professors and undergrads who perform research, as well as those who want to become teachers, have been a part of it.”

Wu continued to mention how he enjoys teaching and interacting with all kinds of students.

“As I progressed in my career and started working with students, that’s the part I really enjoyed,” he said. “I wanted to be at a place where I can still interact in transcriptions on a regular basis in addition to performing research. OU has hit that happy medium.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Wu’s work can contact him at [email protected]