Research Highlights from the Division of Intramural Research: May 2021 Showcase: Text Alternative

Uncovering Evolutionary Mechanisms that Govern Meiosis

An artist’s rendition of DNA (blue and red on a black background), with parts of the strand breaking into very small clouds of circles.

Meiosis is the process of cell division that creates sperm and eggs, which contain only half the genetic material of a regular cell. Understanding meiosis—how it’s regulated and how it differs across species—offers insight into evolution, development, and infertility.

Read about work from the Macfarlan Lab that improves understanding of meiosis.

Understanding the Synthesis of Collagen

Microscopy image of a brown-colored cell with a large nucleus, green filaments around the exterior of the cell, and green clusters inside the cell.

Collagen fibers provide the structural support for the body by forming the scaffolds of bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and other tissues and organs. Collagen fiber synthesis is crucial for the health of normal tissues, and problems with it are linked to rare genetic diseases, as well as common disorders such as fibrosis and osteoporosis.

Read about work from the Leikin Lab that explains how cells produce and secrete collagen.

Finding New Treatments for Blood and Blood Pressure Disorders

Three-dimensional rendering of red blood cells flowing in a vessel.

Polycythemia and pulmonary hypertension are cardiovascular health conditions. Polycythemia occurs when the body makes too many red blood cells. Pulmonary hypertension occurs when blood vessels narrow and blood pressure increases within the arteries of the lung.

Read about work from the Rouault Lab on a new drug to treat polycythemia and pulmonary hypertension.

Understanding Molecular Switches that Control Cell Growth and Metabolism

A cluster of 4 cells is visible against a black background. The cells are marked with blue, green, yellow, and red colors.

Cells use highly coordinated pathways to sense and adapt to their environment. For example, cells must change their metabolism when nutrients are not available. They switch from an active growth phase to a catabolic phase that breaks down existing sources of energy. A complex called TORC1 integrates various signals to control cell growth, proliferation, and cell death.

Read about work from the Lilly Lab on how TORC1 is regulated.

Decoding How Cells Migrate During Embryonic Development

Three panels of microscopy images showing a cluster of green cells moving progressively from left to right against a backdrop of purple cells.

When an embryo develops, cell migration is a fundamental process that ensures the body forms properly. Problems with cell migration during these key stages of growth can lead to congenital anomalies and developmental disorders.

Read about work from the Chitnis lab on decoding various requirements of developmental cell migration.

Understanding Factors that Protect the Brain During Stress

Illustration of a person’s silhouette with the brain area colored in red, yellow, and green. The background behind the person is a series of connected lines that intersect at circles.

The brain, particularly the hippocampus, is sensitive to high levels of stress hormones called glucocorticoids that are released under stressful or traumatic circumstances.

Read about work from the Loh Lab on understanding factors that can protect neurons from stress-related damage or cell death.

Identifying New Targets for Male Contraceptives

Artist’s rendition of swimming sperm with long tails (blue/white against a black background).

Men have limited contraceptive options, namely condoms or sterilization. Researchers are studying new and better methods, including reversible drug therapies.

Read about work from the Dufau Lab on identifying new targets for non-hormonal male contraceptives.

Improving Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Microscopy image of a developing embryo. There are 4 panels with a different number of cells visible in each panel.

Assisted reproductive technology is used to help people conceive. It includes different types of fertility treatments and may use donor eggs, donor sperm, or previously frozen embryos.

Read about work from DIR researchers on improving assisted reproductive technologies.

Identifying Novel Cancer Treatments

Artist’s rendition of the gastrointestinal system, with the colon highlighted in red.

Tumors rely on a cellular recycling system called autophagy to adapt and grow under low-nutrient conditions. Autophagy degrades existing cellular organelles and proteins to create sources of energy.

Read about work from the DePamphilis Lab on experimental cancer drugs that target autophagy.

Discovering Ways to Protect the Brain from Neurodegeneration

Mitochondria are labelled bright green against a black background. Their shapes are oval with compartments inside.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by abnormal accumulation of a protein called alpha-synuclein (αSyn) in neurons.

Read about work from the Bezrukov Lab on discovering ways to protect the brain from this type of neurodegeneration.

Identifying Molecular Drivers of Leukemia

Three-dimensional image of blue cells that have dense green, globular structures along the surface.

Leukemias are a type of cancer that occurs in blood cells, and they are the most common types of cancer in children. Some forms of leukemia can be very aggressive and hard to treat.

Research from the Love Lab offers insight on the molecular factors that drive the development of a severe form of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) called Early T-cell Precursor ALL (ETP-ALL).


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