What is your summer research project?
My summer research project involves quantifying the rate at which amyloid beta proteins aggregate. Amyloid beta proteins form plaques in the brain when they aggregate, which disrupts neural connections and cellular communication. As such, my project involves preparing amyloid beta protein in order to have it fibrilize and observe the rate at which it does so. This is done through the usage of a stain, Thioflavin T, and a fluorescence spectrometer. Thioflavin T specifically binds to amyloid beta fibrils but not the monomer, and when it binds to the fibrils its fluorescence increases dramatically. As such, by observing how the fluorescence increases over the course of the incubation period we can measure how quickly the proteins aggregate. I will also be looking into how HNE, 4-Hydroxynonenal, affects the rate of fibrilization by adding it in various concentrations to the amyloid beta samples.
What are the implications of your research?
The true cause behind Alzheimer’s and the aggregation of amyloid beta proteins in the brain is still not fully understood, but the two seem to be related. As such, by understanding how and why amyloid beta proteins aggregate, we may be a step closer to creating better treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease. HNE is important as it is formed from the oxidation of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, a molecule we find in our brains and foods thought to be healthy for humans. If it definitively speeds up the rate of amyloid beta aggregation then it may be a factor behind what leads to Alzheimer’s Disease.
What new skills have you gained through your research?
My research experience has been an incredible introduction to all the equipment in a laboratory, which I have not worked with before. This includes using pipettes, plasma cleaners, lyophilizers, and much more. I learned how to use machines such as a spectrophotometer and fluorescence spectrometer as well, which often introduced challenges for me as I ran into a multitude of minor troubleshooting issues. It forced me to think creatively in order to master the software and understand how the machine properly operates. Furthermore, I improved at searching for and comprehending scientific papers, which was important as I had to plan how to prepare the amyloid beta fibrils by looking through previous literature.