2018 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Rebecca Hardie

My name is Becky Hardie and I am a rising 4th year Biomedical Engineering undergraduate at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I have had the opportunity to work on a diverse range of research projects spanning microbiology and genomics, mechanobiology, biomechanics, and stem cell maintenance. As part of the NIH Human Microbiome Project I cultivated and identified anaerobic oral bacteria under the guidance of Dr. Mircea Podar at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. At Georgia Tech, I helped develop an organ culture model of glaucoma for evaluating stem cell therapies with Dr. Eric Snider in Dr. C. Ross Ethier’s lab. I am currently involved in projects investigating the biomechanical properties of lymphatic vessels in the lab of Dr. Rudolph Gleason and assessing ocular compliance in BXD mice in the lab of Dr. C. Ross Ethier. This summer, I am working at the University of California, Berkeley under the guidance of Dr. Danica Chen. Dr. Chen’s lab focuses on understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate aging. They are currently concentrating on determining the role of sirtuins on stem cell maintenance and aging.

My project this summer in Dr. Danica Chen’s lab explores the role of SIRT3 in adult neurogenesis and aging. Neurogenesis, the process of generating new neurons from neural stem cells, is important for maintaining cognitive ability as we age. SIRT3 is a protein found in the mitochondria that is involved in many cellular processes, and Dr. Chen’s lab has previously shown that SIRT3 is involved in regulating aging in hematopoietic (blood) stem cells (HSCs). A deficiency of SIRT3 has no effect on the function of young HSCs, however aged HSCs deficient in SIRT3 show reduced function that can be rescued by increasing the expression of SIRT3. My project focuses on determining whether SIRT3 has a similar effect on neural stem cells (NSCs). By comparing the number of NSCs in the brains of mice deficient in SIRT3 with the number of NSCs in normal mouse brains, I will determine the effect SIRT3 has on NSCs. Completing this analysis with mice of different ages will help determine how the involvement of SIRT3 in regulating NSCs changes with aging. This research will increase the body of knowledge on the regulatory mechanisms involved in adult neurogenesis during aging and may eventually lead to therapies to slow or reverse age-related cognitive decline.

2018 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Viraat Goel

My name is Viraat Goel, and I’m a Bioengineering student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This summer, I’ve had the privilege to work in Dr. Khalid Shah’s Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics and Imaging at Harvard Medical School under the mentorship of Dr. Clemens Reinshagen. The lab focuses on cell-based therapies for treating cancer, with a primary focus on treating glioblastoma, the most common type of malignant brain tumor in adults. With research intended to be translated for use in the clinic, the lab is situated in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Neurosurgery department.

My project this summer focused on further exploring previous work done in the lab. In attempting to overcome the limitations of current cell-based therapies for cancer, the Shah lab previously showed that glioblastoma tumor cells themselves can be modified to act as cancer-killing agents. By engineering the tumor cells to secrete molecules capable of causing cancer cell death, altering the engineered tumor cells to be resistant to the secreted molecules, and implementing a kill switch into the engineered tumor cells, the lab reimagined how patient-tailored cell-based therapies could be created. Having successfully been tested in glioblastomas, this approach could be applied to other cancer types as well. Accordingly, I’m aiming to replicate the approach and its results in lung cancer and melanoma. If successful, this research would introduce a novel way to create cell therapies, whether for cancer or other diseases, and would give rise to exciting new research opportunities.

2018 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Srini Cherukuri

My name’s Srini Cherukuri, and I’m a rising junior at Brown University studying biological physics. Over the last two summers, I worked at the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine under the mentorship of Dr. Joanna Bakowska. I was responsible for detailing the domains of the protein Spartin and how they could be implicated in the development of Troyer Syndrome. This summer, I spent 10 weeks at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging studying the impact of the Parkinson’s Disease gene LRRK2 in digestive dysfunction. I worked in the lab of Dr. Pejmun Haghighi under the close mentorship of Dr. Edward Liao.

In humans, we have noticed that a strong majority of familial Parkinson’s Disease cases are preceded by gastroinestinal dysfunction. Given this strong genetic trend, our project attempts to implicate the Parkinson’s Disease gene LRRK2 in digestive dysfunction. My project consisted of assessing digestive symptoms in Drosophila with various forms of LRRK2 abnormality. We examined digestive function for both Drosophila with no functional copy of the LRRK2 gene in any cell type and also Drosophila with higher-than-average copies of LRRK2 in certain cell types. Since the Drosophila copy of the LRRK gene is very similar to the human LRRK2 gene, the results of this experiment can hopefully be cross-applied to studying LRRK aberrations in humans.

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