9:59 a.m., Dec. 3, 2010----University of Delaware senior Ariel Roach is studying cataracts in mice to determine whether the clouding of the eye's lens is caused by activation of the unfolded protein response in mutants.
Her research presentation won first place in the life/biological science category of a poster contest at the 13th annual Philadelphia AMP Research Symposium and Mentoring Conference in November, earning Roach $350.
The conference was sponsored by the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), a program funded by the National Science Foundation to increase the quality and quantity of students completing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree programs.
Roach, a mechanical engineering major who is also pursuing a minor in mathematics and biomedical engineering, explains that perlecan is a major component of the lens capsule. Recent observations, she says, indicate that mice secreting less of this protein develop cataracts.
She says she hopes her undergraduate research under Melinda K. Duncan, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, will provide knowledge on alternative methods to stop cataract development in humans.
“Previous work in the Duncan Lab found evidence that the unfolded protein response (UPR) of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) plays a role in cataract development of wild type mice, however, an in-depth study relating eye deformations caused by perlecan mutations to UPR has not been conducted,” she says.
In her research, Roach used perlecan antibody staining to determine if the mutant perlecan is retained within the cells. As a sensitive indicator of UPR, immunoglobin-binding protein (BiP) was used in immunostaining to investigate activation of the UPR in mutant mice.
Her results showed a similar distribution of perlecan in both wild type and mutant mice, although staining in mutant mice was less intense.
This decreased intensity indicates that the perlecan is secreted, but may be inefficiently synthesized or efficiently degraded in the lens, according to Roach, suggesting that the ocular phenotype of perlecan mutants may not be due to the activation of the UPR.
She plans to continue her investigation with younger mice whose eyes are still developing, since UPR may not be apparent once the tissue has reached adulthood.
Roach was named a Ronald E. McNair Scholar in 2010 and a National Society of Collegiate Scholar in 2008. She has served as the Resources to Insure Successful Engineers (RISE) program representative for the Department of Mechanical Engineering since 2007.
As the current president of the UD chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE-UDEL), Roach supports NSBE's mission to “increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”
The NSBE-UDEL chapter helps students prepare for successful careers through monthly workshops on such topics as networking, professionalism, graduate school, resume building and more. There is also a mentoring group for underclassmen in STEM fields and pre-college students interested in going to college.
Following graduation, Roach says she hopes to pursue a career in biomedical engineering.
Article by Karen B. Roberts