The Halfmann Lab uses genetic, biochemical, and biophysical approaches to better understand the processes that cause certain proteins like prions to aggregate, or cluster together. Historically, prions have had a bad reputation and have been implicated in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, ALS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. However, the lab’s research has discovered that prions are also important for normal cellular processes including immune responses that fight off viruses.
Halfmann’s work has done much to deepen our understanding of prions, illustrating that they can allow yeast cells to coordinate their metabolism and cooperate like more complex organisms. The lab has demonstrated that prions function as part of innate immune responses in humans.
At the heart of the Halfmann Lab's research is the metastable state of molecules called supersaturation, where a solution exceeds its normal limit of concentration for those molecules.
The Halfmann Lab uses cutting-edge microscopy and flow cytometry technology to look inside living cells and “see” what happens when supersaturated proteins transition from a liquid to a solid state. Their mission is to understand how these phase transitions are regulated in cells and how this form of signaling is involved in various healthy and disease-causing processes including inflammation and aging.