Teaching cells to die for treatment of certain neurodegenerative disorders and cancers

Problem Title

Teaching cells to die for treatment of certain neurodegenerative disorders and cancers

Scientific Title

Acheron-Regulated Survival of the Ptilinal Muscle in Drosophila melanogaster

Student: 
Joanne Johnson
Major(s): 
Biology
iCons Concentration: 
Biomedicine/Biosystems
iCons Class Year: 
Class of 2015
Executive Summary 

Properly regulating the death of cells is a crucial part of development in all organisms and problems with this mechanism are the basis of many different kinds of disease in humans including certain cancers and neurodegenerative disorders.

We have found that the presence of a protein called Acheron functions as survival signal to a cell, allowing it to survive despite the presence of signals that would normally kill the cell. This could explain why breast cancer cells that express this protein form larger tumors.

In the Schwartz lab, we have found that this protein is normally expressed in the ptilinal muscle of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The ptilinal muscle is used by the fruit fly to break out of its pupa during development. Shortly after eclosion, the muscle dies because it is no longer needed.

We believe that the tight regulation of survival and death of this muscle is due to the expression of Acheron. Using genetic interference, we are working to precociously remove Acheron from these muscle cells, inducing death in these cells earlier. Our hope is that one day, our research will contribute to removing this protein from cancerous tumors and make them easier to treat.

Problem Keywords: 
breast cancer
cancer
Scientific Keywords: 
Acheron
cell death
ptilinal