An education in the hard sciences comes not from hours in a classroom only, or even mostly, but from hours spent in the laboratory or in the field, learning how to collect and analyze data.
Our focus on education means that even our research opportunities are first and foremost education opportunities--conducted in a manner and environment that gives the student maximum opportunity to learn how quality research is done.
Read the entire Statement of Undergraduate Research and Professional Experience
Research Interests: Epilepsy: Causes and Treatment
Millions of people in the US suffer from epilepsy, a heterogeneous collection of disorders that all involve spontaneous recurrent seizures that have no known trigger. Unfortunately, the etiology of epilepsy is poorly understood particularly given the diverse categories of genes that have been implicated in this disease. In order to understand the underlying cause of seizure disorders such as epilepsy, we study a family of Drosophila mutants that are known as the Bang-sensitive (BS) paralytic mutants. These mutants are susceptible to seizures following exposure to electrical shock, physical trauma, cold temperature, anesthetic gases, and high frequency light. Following any one of these insults, seizure activity, which is characterized by violent uncoordinated contractions of the legs, wings and abdomen, is observed. This is followed by a period of paralysis that is interspersed with bouts of subsequent seizure activity. (view the video) Currently we are examining exactly what type of insults trigger seizures in the different BS mutants in order to better understand the nature of the defect. In particular, we are interested in 1) characterizing the types of high frequency light stimuli that can trigger seizures and 2) examining the ability of hypoxia to trigger seizures in Drosophila as hypoxia is known to be a potent trigger in mammals.
While it is clear that a diverse range of insults can trigger seizures in the BS mutants, no common physiological defect has been found in the BS mutants. This represents another major line of investigation in the lab. One possibility we are testing is whether metabolic defects may be common to the BS mutants. It is known that mitochondria from one BS mutant (technical knockout) have a reduced ability to synthesize ATP and that epileptic foci in mammals often display low levels of metabolism between seizure events. Given this and other data, we believe that defects in metabolism may play a role in the seizure disorders seen in the BS mutants. We are currently testing this hypothesis in the lab with the hopes that it will shed light on the physiological defect(s) in seizure disorders in general.
Student Research Opportunities:
All of the research done in the lab is conducted by undergraduates who have the opportunity to perform independent research projects during their time at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The results of their research have been presented at the Annual Drosophila Research conference both in 2004 and 2006. Over the past four years more than 15 students have done work in the lab and many of these students have gone on to medical and graduate school.
Research Interests: Aldehyde Dehydrogenase & Protein Sequences
My research interests focus on the enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH). ALDHs catalyze the oxidation of aldehydes to their corresponding carboxylic acids coupled with reduction of NAD or NADP to NADH or NADPH, respectively. ALDHs occur throughout all phyla of life. Many disparate aldehydes are ubiquitous in nature and most are toxic at low levels because of their chemical reactivity. Thus, levels of metabolic-intermediate and environmental aldehydes must be carefully regulated. For this, most well studied organisms are known to have several distinct ALDHs which take part in a variety of physiological roles. which is central to the detoxification of alcohol, xenobiotics and several chemotherapeutic agents in the human body. Through analysis of a large protein sequence alignment (145 sequences) by this investigator, a large number of important conserved amino acid residues were identified in the ALDH extended family. In collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, the activity of these residues is being explored via site-directed mutagenesis of the rat class 3 ALDH, providing students with skills in molecular biology, protein biochemistry and enzyme kinetics.
Another area of research interest is the growing field of bioinformatics. Modern sequence databases possess a large amount of untapped information. Student research projects involve performing multiple protein sequence alignments of certain proteins and/or protein families. From these alignments and comparisons to known tertiary structures, the identities and potential functions of conserved residues will be proposed. Also the evolutionary relationships between proteins from distinct species will be evaluated.
Class of 2007 Majors: Biology and Theology
In the jungles of South America, Brian Burke ’07 found his calling.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue medicine,” he recalls, “until I went to Ecuador.”
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