Research | Queen’s University Canada

Stephen Archer

Stephen Archer

Discovering how disorders of mitochondrial structure occur and how they control vital cell functions, including cell division, programmed cell death, and metabolism: this research will lead to innovative therapies that target mitochondrial dynamics and the fission and fusion of mitochondria for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, heart attacks, and lung cancer.

[Dr. Stephen Archer]
Former Canada Research Chair in Mitochondrial Dynamics and Translational Medicine
Tier 1

The Secret Lives of Mitochondria

Mitochondria are constantly dividing, fusing, and moving throughout your cells. That mitochondria do more than make energy is a relatively new observation, one that has given rise to the young field of mitochondrial dynamics.

Dr. Stephen Archer, Canada Research Chair in Mitochondrial Dynamics and Translational Medicine, is fascinated by mitochondria, and believes they hold the key to treating several lethal lung diseases, including pulmonary arterial hypertension (increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries) and non-small-cell lung cancer.

Mitochondria are best known for generating the energy-containing molecule ATP. Other mitochondrial functions include playing roles in regulating programmed cell death (apoptosis) and cell proliferation. The historical view of mitochondria as isolated structures has also been replaced by the recognition that they exist in dynamic networks that continuously join (fusion) and divide (fission). In fact, whenever a cell divides, its mitochondria must also divide, so that these organelles are equally shared by the daughter cells. The ability of mitochondria to change from networked to fragmented states is known as "mitochondrial dynamics" and is controlled by a small number of enzymes.

Archer is using superresolution confocal microscopy to observe the secret lives of mitochondria, and develop new understanding of how these once free-living bacteria (before humans became their hosts) regulate cell division, death, and quality control.

Archer has discovered that structural mitochondrial abnormalities contribute to both rapid cell growth and apoptosis-resistance in pulmonary arterial hypertension and non-small-cell lung cancer. By forcing fusion, he has tricked cells to stop dividing and die. The result has been therapies that reduce the severity of pulmonary arterial hypertension and shrink lung cancer tumours.

Archer’s research suggests that mitochondrial dynamics may be the Achilles heel of pulmonary arterial hypertension and non-small-cell lung cancer. His research is aiming a therapeutic arrow at this vulnerable target.