Biology majors Amy Drossman ('11) and Jackie Skiba ('10) recently published a portion of their undergraduate research in the journal PLoS One. Their project, mentored by Professor of Biology Mason Posner, provides new insights into the function of a protein involved in preventing diseases as diverse as Alzheimer's, cancer and lens cataracts. The Ashland University research team collaborated on this newly published work with scientists from the National Eye Institute and Miami University of Ohio.
The protein at the center of this new paper, alpha crystallin, is a member of the small heat shock protein family, which is used in most tissues of the human body to prevent the clumping of proteins that could lead to multiple types of diseases. While most research on these protective proteins is done in mammals like mice or humans, the Ashland University research team used six species of fishes to examine how alpha crystallin has evolved to function at different body temperatures. This unique approach allowed the researchers to identify small changes in the protein that increased its protective ability. Similar changes engineered into human versions of alpha crystallin could potentially enhance the body's ability to protect itself against disease.
Amy and Jackie previously presented their findings at an international vision research meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2010. Amy is currently attending the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago and Jackie is working as a quality control technician in the coffee division of the Smuckers Corporation.