Omid Haji-Ghassemi

Dr. Omid Haji-Ghassemi, BSc, PhD

Positions

Assistant Professor

Faculty of Science, Department of Biological Sciences

Full Member

Libin Cardiovascular Institute

Member

Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute

Contact information

Web presence

Phone number

Office: 403.220.8189

Location

Office: BI430B

Background

Educational Background

Ph.D Biochemistry, University of Victoria, 2015

B.Sc. (Honours) Microbiology, University of Victoria, 2009

Biography

Dr. Haji-Ghassemi obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Victoria, studying antibody-carbohydrate interactions under the guidance of Prof. Stephen Evans. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia with Prof. Filip Van Petegem, Dr. Haji-Ghassemi utilized single-particle cryo-EM and X-ray crystallography to investigate how disease mutations and regulatory proteins affect ion channel gating. With expertise spanning biology, microbiology, immunology, chemical biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry, Dr. Haji-Ghassemi explores small molecule-protein and protein-protein interactions. His work has been published in journals such as Science Advances, Nature Chemical Biology, Molecular Cell, Nature Communications, and many others, highlighting the significant impact and recognition within the scientific community. Dr. Haji-Ghassemi started his position as an Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary in Jan 2022. With a primary focus on molecular structures and interactions, Dr. Haji-Ghassemi intend to use cutting-edge research methods to make ground-breaking discoveries that have transformative implications in medicine and healthcare for the people of Alberta and beyond. Dr. Haji-Ghassemi actively contributes to their field through participation in professional organizations like the Canadian Biophysical Society, the international Biophysical Society, and the local Libin Cardiovascular Institute. Dr. Haji-Ghassemi has been recognized with an early career award from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, starting in July 2023.

Research

Areas of Research

Area of Focus
  • Protein kinase regulation of ion channels at neuromuscular junctions
  • Disease Mechanisms
  • Structural Biology
Summary of Research

Dr. Haji-Ghassemi focuses on investigating the intricate interaction between protein kinases, mammalian ion channels, and neuromuscular proteins. Through an interdisciplinary approach utilizing X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM), and biochemical and biophysical assays, my lab aims to unravel the mechanisms underlying kinase targeting, recruitment, and activation within neuromuscular cells. Protein kinases play a crucial role in regulating various biological processes, yet our understanding of their regulation mechanisms remains limited. To address this, my research aims to unravel the specific targeting of protein kinases towards neuromuscular proteins and ion channels, shedding light on the fundamental mechanisms governing their recruitment and activation. The Haji-Ghassemi lab focus on studying specific proteins involved in these signaling pathways to investigate how their dysregulation can contribute to cancers and cardiovascular diseases. A key area of interest is calcium signaling, where we have a particular focus on L-plastin, a protein critical for cell structure and movement. Overexpression of L-plastin has been implicated in various cancers and seems to play an important role in their invasiveness, making it a promising target for novel therapeutic approaches. We are particularly interested in understanding how L-plastin interacts with other proteins and how these interactions can alter the cell cytoskeleton. Recently, we have identified a specific site where one of these interactions occurs, providing a foundation for further investigation. Through our research program, we aim to advance our understanding of protein kinase interactions, neuromuscular signaling pathways, and calcium signaling in disease states. By unraveling the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes, we aspire to contribute to the development of innovative therapeutic strategies for various cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Our interdisciplinary approach combining structural biology techniques and biochemical assays will provide valuable insights into the complex interplay between kinases, ion channels, and neuromuscular proteins, fostering advancements in biomedical research and ultimately improving human health.

Activities

Our lab is interested in uncovering the molecular mechanisms of under-studied enzymes, called kinases, which play a critical role in regulating different biological mechanisms, including the beating of our hearts. Although these enzymes are critical to normal cardiovascular and neurological function, their dysregulation may lead to numerous diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many heart conditions. It’s the connection to disease that we are especially interested in. The goal of our work long-term is to develop novel therapeutic tools that alter the activities of protein kinases that underlie disease.

Specifically, our lab will focus on protein kinase targeting of ion channels. Ion channel proteins form molecular gateway that opens and closes in response to electrical, chemical or mechanical signals, allowing cellular communication that are important in many physiological processes.

Our lab makes use of structural biology tools, like X-ray crystallography and single particle cryo-electron microscopy, that allow us to visualize individual atoms of proteins and form new hypothesis regarding their biological function.

Teaching interests

I teach courses on ion channels, proteins, and enzymes. I also enjoy teaching about methods and tools we use in structural biology and protein biochemistry.

Libin Cardiovascular Institute

I have also recently been welcomed as a researcher at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, focusing on molecular mechanisms behind heart, skeletomuscular and neuronal diseases (read UToday news article).

Participation in university strategic initiatives