Clarkson University Biology Professor Kenneth Wallace was recently awarded a $429,000 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development at the National Institute of Health (NIH) to investigate the development of intestinal stem cells using the zebrafish vertebrate model system.
Within the lumen of the digestive system where food passes, there is a layer of cells that regulates nutrients entering the body. As these cells are continuously exposed to harsh digestive enzymes and mechanical abrasion, they constantly turn over. Constant turnover is accomplished by having multiple stem cell compartments throughout the intestine that produce replacements over the life of the organ.
While much has been discovered about how stem cells are controlled during the adult phase, much less is known about the origins of these stem cell compartments. Little is known about when the stem cells form and how they are regulated. To uncover more about how stem cells are regulated during the development of the intestine, Wallace will use zebrafish, which has become a common vertebrate model system.
Zebrafish are a common aquarium fish, which are small and easy to care for and the embryos develop rapidly in an external environment. While fish may seem an unusual vertebrate to investigate the human condition, zebrafish share more than 70 percent of their genes with humans, making them an excellent system to study both the development and origins of disease. Understanding of the genes and mechanisms involved in the formation and regulation of the fish’s intestinal stem cells will provide information about how human intestinal stem cells are regulated.
Another important objective of this grant is to provide resources for undergraduates to understand and conduct research on the molecular and cellular basis of embryonic development. This will expand the number of undergraduates exposed to research and ultimately provide a larger number of students that understand and appreciate developmental biology. Resources from this grant will allow undergraduates to have the opportunity to perform hands-on independent research.
Wallace received a PhD in Molecular Genetics from The Ohio State University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Wallace has been a Clarkson faculty member since 2004. He has also previously received additional competitive grants from the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.