Justina is a senior research associate at Vollum Institute, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR. Justina’s main research interests lie in the study of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (PTP), an inner mitochondrial membrane channel playing a key role in cell death pathways, and thus involved in numerous pathologies, including myocardial infarction and heart failure. Justina obtained her MSc. degree in Biophysics at Vilnius University, Lithuania in 2009. While a student, she wasawarded an Erasmus Fellowship to spent time at University of Padova, Italy, where she began her studies on PTP with Dr. Ricchelli and Dr. P. Bernardi. She continued investigating the regulation and molecular nature of the PTP focusing on contribution of outer mitochondrial membrane to this phenomenon during her graduate studies, and obtained a Ph.D. degree in Cellular Biology in 2013 from University of Padova. Her research focused on the outer mitochondrial membrane and the role of a specific outer membrane protein, TSPO, which at the time was considered an essential component of the PTP. Following genetic inactivation of the gene encoding TSPO, she was able to demonstrate that TSPO, and the entire outer membrane, played no role in the PTP or in mitochondrial bioenergetics (Šileikytė et al., J Biol Chem. 2011 and 2014).
As a post-doctoral fellow between 2013 and 2016 in P. Bernardi’s laboratory, Justina became interested in high throughput screening of small molecule libraries and took part in an NIH-funded program of Drs. Forte and Bernardi aimed at discovery of novel inhibitors of the PTP. She travelled to Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute (La Jolla, CA) to screen the NIH MLPCN small molecule library (about 360,000 compounds) and identified a series of novel small molecule inhibitors of the PTP. Subsequently, in collaboration with Dr. F. Schoenen (Kansas University Chemistry Center), secondary chemistry was used to optimise the lead compounds so that the most potent inhibitors of the PTP known to date were generated (Roy,Šileikytė et al., ChemMedChem2015 and 2016; Patent pending). Recently, she has joined Mike Forte's lab in order to refine these molecules to be of use therapeutically as well as identify their binding site(s).