Roy Cohen, PhD
To answer big questions about life and develop new technologies that could transform medical care, Dr. Roy Cohen trains his sights on tiny biological machines: calcium channels and enzymes. Calcium channels are responsive little tunnels that shuttle calcium in and out of cells, a process that can trigger chains of events that make big things happen in the body. With the enzymes, Cohen is developing tools to detect markers in the bloodstream that indicate a head injury, cancer, infection, or other conditions.
In one of his current projects, Dr. Cohen is looking for ways to manage and improve diabetes care for dogs, cats, and humans alike by studying calcium channels in the pancreas that can affect insulin release. When the system is working correctly, specialized clusters of cells in the pancreas sense levels of glucose in the blood and secret hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, into the blood stream. This helps control blood sugar (glucose) levels and makes it easier for the body to absorb this sweet nutrient. In this process, glucose stimulates calcium channels on the surface of pancreas cells. These tiny tunnels then allow calcium into the cells, which causes the cell to release insulin, a crucial step for maintaining health. In previous studies, Cohen and his colleagues found that different levels of cholesterol can change how those calcium channels work, and hence, how much insulin is released. This may mean that cholesterol in the diet affects the amount of insulin the pancreas releases, which could have important implications for managing diabetes. Dr. Cohen is interested in finding out whether drugs that target interactions between cholesterol and calcium channels might help treat diabetes by regulating the release of insulin.
Dr. Cohen not only studies the minute details of cells, he’s also putting these discoveries to work for improving medical and veterinary care. To speed up diagnosis of certain common conditions, he and his collaborators are developing sensors that can identify molecules in the blood that signify the patient has a traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and other illnesses. At the heart of these technologies are target-specific enzymes and light-emitting enzymes attached to a solid surface. When a blood sample washes over the surface, the target-specific enzymes recognize the marker molecules, which activates them to trigger the light-emitting enzymes to release a flash that is picked up by a light detector. Once they’re perfected, these sensors could be used as screening tools in veterinary offices and hospitals, and in cases of head injury or stroke, the sensors could help track the progress of a patient’s recovery.
January 2007, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Ph.D. Biochemistry, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, Institute of Life Sciences
With the distinction of “Summa Cum Laude”
Thesis: “Functional Interactions Between Voltage-Gated Ca2+ Channels and Synaptic Proteins in Neurotransmitter Release”
2000-2002, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, M.Sc. Biochemistry, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, Institute of Life Sciences
Thesis: “Functional Interactions Between Synaptotagmin and Voltage Gated Ca2+ Channels in Regulated Secretion”
1997-2000, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, B.Sc. Life Sciences, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, Institute of Life Sciences
Emphasis: biochemistry and neuroscience
Research Assistant Professor – June 2017 - Present
James A. Baker Inst. Dept. of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University
- Design and development of a novel enzyme-based biosensor for use in Point of Care Testing (POCT) technologies. Focus applications include devices for rapid diagnosis of brain injuries (TBI, concussion, stroke, and neurodegenerative disease) and cancer screening.
- Biophysical and biochemical studies of Voltage Gated Ca2+ Channels (VGCC) regulation by lipids and lipid modifying compounds. Research emphasis on lipid-VGCC regulation in metabolism and metabolic disease.
Research Scientist – August 2015 - June 2017
James A. Baker Inst. Dept. of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University
Research Associate – May 2010 – July 2015
A. Travis Lab - James A. Baker Inst. Dept. of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University
- Biophysical and biochemical studies of lipid-mediated regulation of Voltage Gated Ca2+ Channels (VGCC) in male germ cells.
- Design and development of a novel enzyme-based Point of Care Testing (POCT) technology for rapid diagnosis with focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke.
- Employing biomimicry-based strategies in developing biomedical/biotechnological applications.
Post doctoral training – Aug 2006 - May 2010
Baird-Holowka Research Group - Dept. of Chem. and Bio. Chem. Cornell University
- Studying the spatial and temporal regulation of immune cell signaling with specific focus on Ca 2+ dynamics and secretion.
- Investigating the molecular and cellular processes that regulate mast cell function.
- Development of a microscopy based technique for visualization of single mast cell degranulation with high temporal and spatial resolution.
- Studying signal transduction using squeezable and expandable cyto-nano-gels (in collaboration with Dr. Dan Luo Lab, Material Engineering, Cornell University).
- Examining biological and medical applications of mesoporous nanoparticles in cell tracing, imaging and drug delivery (in collaboration with the Wiesner Research Group, Material Science, Cornell University).
Ph.D. Studies – 2002 - 2006
D. Atlas Lab - Dept. of Biological Chemistry, Hebrew University
- Studying synaptic proteins-VGCC interactions in regulated exocytosis.
- Studying the biophysical properties of voltage gated calcium channels by applying molecular, biochemical and electrophysiological approaches.
- Development of a membrane capacitance based assay to monitor exocytosis by reconstituted synaptic proteins and calcium channels in Xenopus oocytes (in collaboration with B.M. Schmitt, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ).
Links and abstracts for all of Dr. Cohen's publications can be found at NCBI.
1. Zhao, AH; Tu, LN; Mukai, C; Sirivelu, MP; Pillai, VV; Morohaku, K; Cohen, R; Selvaraj, V; (2016). Mitochondrial Translocator Protein (TSPO) Function Is Not Essential for Heme Biosynthesis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 291(4), 1591-1603. Abstract.
2. Cohen, R; Lata, JP; Lee, Y; Hernandez, JC; Nishimura, N; Schaffer, CB; Mukai, C; Nelson, JL; Brangman, SA; Agrawal, Y; Travis, AJ; (2015). Use of Tethered Enzymes as a Platform Technology for Rapid Analyte Detection. PLOS One, 10(11).
3. Lata, JP; Gao, L; Mukai, C; Cohen, R; Nelson, JL; Anguish, L; Coonrod, S; Travis, AJ; (2015). Effects of Nanoparticle Size on Multilayer Formation and Kinetics of Tethered Enzymes. Bioconjugate Chemistry, 26(9), 1931-1938. Abstract.
4. Cohen, R; Holowka, DA; Baird, BA; (2015). Real-time imaging of Ca(2+) mobilization and degranulation in mast cells. Methods in Molecular Biology, 1220, 347-363.
5. Cohen, R; Buttke, DE; Asano, A; Mukai, C; Nelson, JL; Ren, D; Miller, RJ; Cohen-Kutner, M; Atlas, D; Travis, AJ; (2014). Lipid modulation of calcium flux through CaV2.3 regulates acrosome exocytosis and fertilization. Developmental Cell, 28(3), 310-321.
6. Kim, B; Zhang, X; Kan, R; Cohen, R; Mukai, C; Travis, AJ; Coonrod, SA; (2014). The role of MATER in endoplasmic reticulum distribution and calcium homeostasis in mouse oocytes. Developmental Biology, 386(2), 331-339. Abstract.
7. Holowka, D; Calloway, N; Cohen, R; Gadi, D; Lee, J; Smith, NL; Baird; (2012). Roles for Ca(2+) mobilization and its regulation in mast cell functions. Frontiers in Immunology, 3, 104.
8. Cohen, R; Corwith, K; Holowka, D; Baird, B; (2012). Spatiotemporal resolution of mast cell granule exocytosis reveals correlation with Ca2+ wave initiation. Journal of Cell Science, 125(Pt 12), 2986-2994.
9. Suteewong, T; Sai, H; Cohen, R; Wang, S; Bradbury, M; Baird, B; Gruner, SM; Wiesner, U; (2011). Highly aminated mesoporous silica nanoparticles with cubic pore structure. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 133(2), 172-175.
10. Cohen, R; Torres, A; Ma, HT; Holowka, D; Baird, B; (2009). Ca2+ waves initiate antigen-stimulated Ca2+ responses in mast cells. The Journal of Immunology, 183(10), 6478-6488.
11. Cohen, R; Schmitt, BM; Atlas, D; (2008). Reconstitution of depolarization and Ca2+-evoked secretion in Xenopus oocytes monitored by membrane capacitance. Methods in Molecular Biology, 440, 269-282. Abstract.
12. Cohen, R; Marom, M; Atlas, D; (2007). Depolarization-evoked secretion requires two vicinal transmembrane cysteines of syntaxin 1A. PLOS One, 2(12).
13. Lerner, I; Trus, M; Cohen, R; Yizhar, O; Nussinovitch, I; Atlas, D; (2006). Ion interaction at the pore of Lc-type Ca2+ channel is sufficient to mediate depolarization-induced exocytosis. Journal of Neurochemistry, 97(1), 116-127. Abstract.
14. Cohen, R; Schmitt, BM; Atlas, D; (2005). Molecular identification and reconstitution of depolarization-induced exocytosis monitored by membrane capacitance. Biophysical Journal, 89(6), 4364-4373.
15. Cohen, R; Elferink, LA; Atlas, D; (2003). The C2A domain of synaptotagmin alters the kinetics of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels Ca(v) 1.2 (Lc-type) and Ca (v)2.3 (R-type). The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 278(11), 9258-9266.
16. Wiser, O; Cohen, R; Atlas, D; (2002). Ionic dependence of Ca2+ channel modulation by syntaxin 1A. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99(6), 3968-3973.
Awards and Honors
- Baker Institute Internal Canine Grant as Co-PI for the proposal “Development of novel targeted therapies for treating malignant solid tumors in dogs” - Jan 2016–Dec 2018
- Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) award as Co-PI for the proposal “Use of Tethered Enzyme Technology to Diagnose Neural Injury” - July 2015–July 2016
- SUNY Research Foundation (SUNY RF) as Co-PI for the proposal “Development of Hand-held Biosensors for Rapid Diagnosis and Study of Neural Disease & Neurotoxins” – 4/1/2014 - 3/31/2015 (NCE through 9/2015)
- Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) Pilot Award as co-PI for the proposal titled: “Developing a Multiplexed Point-of-Care Platform to Detect Multiple Stroke Biomarkers” June 2012–June 2014
- Best Poster Award, FASEB Summer Research Conference – July 2008
- The Noah Lichtenshtein Prize, Hebrew University – Sep 2005