Current Awardees | REACH | SIU

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Research-Enriched Academic Challenge - REACH

Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities

2016-2017 REACH Awardees

Samuel Berger

Major: Physics

Title: Bell inequalities enhanced with PR boxes.

Abstract: The CHSH-Bell Inequality is used to test if a theory is local based. Quantum Mechanics violates the CHSH-Bell Inequality and thus Quantum Mechanics is not a local theory. Mermin thought of a devied that would demonstrate how weird the world is around us, in particular how werid Quantum Mechanics can be since it is not a local theorem. This device uses a form of the CHSH Inequality to describe how it operates. The system that includes the device is found to behave according to Quantum Mechanics. However, this system behaves according to Quantum Mechanics which is not local even though the system is derived using local theorems. What we aim to do is enhance Mermin's system with PR Boxes, a PR box that is non-signaligin, so that this new system will behave similar to Quantum Mechanics. Our hypothesis is that by enhancing this system with PR Box(es) we wiill be able to hav e asystem that can replicate the obseractions of quantum mechanics while also explaining how the system behaves. We will use one PR Box and see how close this result is to Mermin's system. Then we will use a second PR Box to see if we can improve this result and get even closer to or beat the Mermin's system. 

Faculty Mentor: Eric Chitambar, Physics


Brittan Cobb

Major: Biochemistry

Felicity Reiman

Major: Biological Sciences

Title: Effect of the interferon-gamma protein on expression of fenes associated with muscle atrophy and growth.

Abstract: Interferon-γ (IFNγ) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that is important for appropriate immune responses to infections. IFN is under investigation as therapy for a number of diseases and is used in the research of immune system responses in numerous tissues, including skeletal muscle. The ERG1a potassium channel is known to be involved with muscle atrophy and is up-regulated in response to IFN in cultured cells. We ask: does this up-regulation also occur in animals? To treat an organism effectively with IFN, it must get into the blood and persist long enough to distribute to other tissues; however, IFN is degraded quickly by the body and exists only a short time in animal systems. Therefore, to study the drug’s effect on muscle, it is necessary to combat this degradation. Studies report encapsulating IFN in lipid (i.e., liposome formation) to protect it from degradation. Our pilot study showed that, indeed, we can encapsulate IFN and have it persist in mouse blood for up to 4 days, although the amount the mice absorbed was erratic. Here we propose to continue this project with the following objectives: 1) Improve liposome administration so that mice absorb a more consistent amount of IFN; and 2) Harvest muscle tissues from mice having IFN in their blood and assay these for expression of H2EA (a control gene known to respond to small doses of IFN) and other genes (e.g., Erg1, Tnni2 and desmin) involved with muscle growth and atrophy to investigate the effect of IFN on these processes. This work will establish a model of IFN treatment in the labs of Drs. Davie and Pond. With this, these investigators will research the interaction of IFN with cellular systems involved with muscle growth and atrophy and, thereby, contribute to the knowledge pool necessary for development of therapies for muscle disease.

Faculty Mentors: Amber Pond, Anatomy; Judy Davie, Biochemistry


Koleton Cochran

Major: Exercise Science

Title: The effects of virtual reality on motor behavior: applications to physical therapy.

Abstract: The future applications for virutal reality seem to be truly limitless. By utilizing the latest technology in 3-D visuals and sounds, virtual reality systems (e.g., Oculus Rift) claim to "trick" the human brain into believing that what it sees is real. If this claim is accurate, then the practical applications of using this technology could be used to revolutionize the physical therapy industry. The primary purpose of this study is to investigate if practicing a motor skill in virutal reality results in similar movement and learning benefits compared to practicing a motor skill in real life. A secondary purpose of this study is to evaluate what motor behavioral changes occur as a person practics a motor skill in virutal reality in comparison to practicing using traditional established practice methods. Participants will be assigned to one of four experimental conditions. One condition will practice a motor skill in real-life using traditional practice methods. Another group will practice the motor skill in virtual reality using the Oculus Rift. The third condition will practice the skill using the Nintendo Wii. The three groupds will all take the same pre-test before testing begins. The three different groupds will then practice a physical theraphy oriented motor skill for three days. The groupds will then be given the same posttest followings the final day of practice. The motor behavior and learning mesaures will then be compared across the three groupds to evaluate if differences exist. We expecte to see that practicing the motor skill in virutal reality restults in changes in motor behavior compared to practicing the skill in real life and on the Nintendo Wii. Such a finding would suggest that using virutal reality is an effective way to learn a motor skill and could be used as an alternative form of physical theraphy. 

Faculty Mentor: Jared M. Porter, Kinesiology


Europe Doan

Major: Chemistry

Title: TCEAL7 as a tumor suppressor gene in the pediatric cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma.

Abstract: The highly malignant pediatric cancer, Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), is derived from skeletal muscle precursors that do not differentiate into normal muscle. The Myogenic Regulatory Factors (MRFs) are a family of transcription factors that are the main initiators for the terminal differentiation of skeletal muscle, and it is thought that the MRFs are blocked from completing this task in RMS by unknown mechanisms. Previously, I have found that the transcriptional regulatory protein TCEAL7 is significantly down regulated in RMS cells, suggesting that TCEAL7 may be a tumor suppressor in RMS. It is plausible that the down regulation of TCEAL7 may cause the inactivity of the MRFs or contribute to the oncogenesis of RMS. I have also found that over-expressing TCEAL7 in an RMS cell line causes significant decreases in proliferation, cell motility, expression of the oncogene cyclin D1, and inhibition of anchorage-independent growth.

The results of this project will provide significant information regarding the specific role of TCEAL7 in terminal muscle differentiation and the oncogenesis of RMS. This project will determine if TCEAL7 inhibits growth of RMS tumors in mice in vivo as it has in vitro and if TCEAL7 causes a decrease in metabolic activity of RMS cell lines. It will also determine if cyclin D1 is being down regulated by TCEAL7 through direct or indirect mechanisms which will provide key information on how cyclin D1 is regulated in RMS. The results of this project will also provide insight as to how TCEAL7 is down regulated in RMS, and if TCEAL7 expression can be rescued by reactivating myogenesis in RMS cells. I expect this project will demonstrate that TCEAL7 is regulated by MRF activity and promotes differentiation, that TCEAL7 directly regulates cyclin D1, and that the in vivo studies will mimic the previous findings of my in vitro studies.

Faculty Mentor: Judy Davie, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Logan Druessel

Major: Physiology

Title: Expression and function of long intergenic non-coding RNA's in human endometrial fibroblasts undergoing transdifferentiation into decidual cells.

Abstract: In mammals, it has been long understood that a small percentage of the genome contains DNA regions that code for proteins and this has been the focus of genetics for decades. Also, it has been known for quite a time there are many regions of the genome that do not code for proteins but are still regions from which RNA is transcribed. More recently it has been appreciated these regions are not simply “junk DNA”, but are actually regions from which functional non-protein coding RNAs are made. There is a wide variety of classes of these non-coding RNA's, some of which have been studied in depth while other have yet to be studied in much depth. One of these types of RNA’s are the long intergenic non-coding RNA’s (LincRNA’s). Recently, thousands of genes that encode for LinRNA’s have been discovered, but we only understand the functions of a very few. My mentor's lab has a long term interest in understanding the trans-differentiation of human fibroblast cells to decidual cells (i.e. a process called decidualization) that form the maternal component of the placenta. This process is key for successful pregnancy. We have preliminary results showing several LincRNA’s whose expression increases over from 15- to 150-fold during this trans-differentiation. Essentially nothing is known about the expression and function of this LincRNA in any cell type. Therefore, I propose to look at the expression and function of two of these LincRNA’s in human endometrial fibroblasts as they undergo differentiation into decidual cells in vitro. The overarching hypothesis of the proposed work is that these LincRNA’s play a functional role in decidualization of human endometrial fibroblast cells.

Faculty Mentor: Brent Bany, Physiology


Anna Frailey

Anna Frailey

Major: Biology-Ecology

Title: Exploring allelopathic effects of two invasive species on plant growth and survivorship.

For my research, I propose to study how aqueous allelopathic extracts from two common Illinois’ invasive species impact the growth and survivorship of five species including one Illinois native grass species, Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), one native co-occurring woodland species, Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), one species that is sensitive to allelopathy, Radish (Raphanus sativus), and the invasives themselves, Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) and Japanese Chaff Flower (Achyranthes japonica). These invasives have had a very detrimental impact on Illinois native species. Japanese Stiltgrass is known to produce allelopathic chemicals in its leaves. However, Japanese Chaff Flower’s allelopathic potential is yet to be confirmed, but it is expected. Allelopathy can be defined as the inhibition of seed germination, growth, and/or plant performance through chemicals released from one plant to further its own success against other plants. Nonnative invasive species’ success in habitats is a growing field of research. It is known that invasive species can completely change the structure and function of an ecosystem. There are many hypotheses on how invasives successfully establish in new habitats so quickly, but a controversial mechanism being studied is allelopathy. This study is important for the conservation of native Illinois habitats and could further knowledge on allelopathic impacts on different species of plants, including the possibility of discovering if Japanese Chaff Flower is allelopathic.

My hypotheses for this project are, that all species will exhibit inhibitory growth and lower survivorship from both Japanese Stiltgrass and Japanese Chaff flower extracts; with greater reduction in growth rates and lower survivorship on the allelopathically sensitive species. I also hypothesize that the Japanese Stiltgrass extracts will have more inhibitory effects on growth rate and cause less survivorship than the Japanese Chaff Flower extracts and the control.

Faculty Mentor: David Gibson, Plant Biology


Evan Gebhardt

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Title: An invesitgation of the applications of factional calculus  

This study will consist of research into a form of calculus, called “fractional calculus,” where integrals and derivatives, the pillars of calculus, can be taken to fractional number orders, instead of just integer number orders like in “traditional” calculus. Fractional calculus, although relatively obscure compared to traditional calculus, has been known about for centuries but is only now gaining momentum in research and practical applications. The computations involved in fractional calculus are much more complex and require much more knowledge of mathematics than of “traditional” calculus, rendering it widely ignored by most undergraduate programs. My plan is to investigate the feasibility of modeling real-life phenomena, namely diffusion, with differential equations involving fractional operators. The wave equation, a model for the behavior of waves in diffusion, is a differential equation (that is, an equation that uses operators of calculus to model a phenomenon). The traditional wave equation uses traditional calculus to model diffusion, but my hypothesis is that the traditional form of the wave equation is an idealization, and that due to the nature of thermodynamics and imperfections in the real world (friction, entropy, and other irreversibilities), diffusion in real-world situations would be modelled better by a fractional operator. Studies have shown that differential equations with fractional operators can model the behavior of organic tissues in response to an electric current, so this makes biomechanics and bioengineering an implication of this research. If the wave equation is better modelled by a fractional differential equation than by a traditional one, then it stands that the applications of fractional calculus could prove innumerable and are worth professional investigation, from commercial applications to medical and prosthetic applications.

Faculty Mentor: Om Prakash Agrawal, Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes


Elizabeth Geerling

Elizabeth Geerling

Major: Biological Sciences

Title: Determining if high testosterone levels cause metaplastic changes in the male reproductive tract

Abstract: My project studies the long-term reproductive effects of an activating mutation in the luteinizing hormone receptor (LHR), which causes a disorder known as familial male-limited precocious puberty, or FMPP. In both sexes, LHR function is essential for gametogenesis and steroidogenesis. The goal of my project is to determine if chronic high levels of testosterone caused by the activating mutation result in cellular changes in the male reproductive tract and sexual dysfunction in a mouse model of FMPP.

Faculty Mentor: Prema Narayan, Physiology 


Sophie Hall

Sophie Hall

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Title: Solar water distiller with aerobic compost heat exchanger                         

Abstract: The water, food and energy nexus is a framework for considering sustainability. The nexus acknowledges that food, energy and water shortages are interrelated and suggests that solutions to these issues should be interrelated as well. The proposed design seeks to link food waste reuse, renewable energy and water purification in keeping with this philosophy. Drinkable water is increasingly rare; waterborne diseases kill millions and lower the quality of life for billions more every year. Boiling water is a traditional means of water purification, but it is costly and produces air pollution. Solar distillation is the chosen method of water purification for this design because it is effective in purifying water without contributing to greenhouse gases. In a still, evaporated water leaves behind contaminates and resulting water vapor forms droplets on a condensing surface. These droplets roll down the condensing surface towards the channel designated for the removal of treated water. Solar power is an abundant and clean source of energy but it is intermittent in its effectiveness. The proposed design seeks to enhance the effectiveness of a solar still with the addition of a compost-heat exchanger. As much as thirty percent of waste produced by Americans consists of plant waste from food and yards. Composting is a means of keeping the valuable nutrients from this waste out of landfills so that it can be used for future crops. Aerobic composting of organic materials can produce temperatures as high as 80⁰ C in the compost pile. A heat exchanger consisting of a tube that runs along one wall of the compost bin, can transfer some of this heat to contaminated water in the tube. The preheated water can then be pumped into the solar still which will increase the rate of evaporation within the still and even continue distillation when solar power is unavailable.

Faculty Mentor: Emmanuel Nsofor, Mechanical Engineering


Nicole

Nicole Hanke

Major: Civil Engineering

Title: Stabilization of fine-grained soil using biofuel co-product (BCP) from Illinois 

Abstract: This study will evaluate if bio-fuel co-products made in Illinois are suitable to stabilize fine-grained soil (clay) in the Southern Illinois area, as well as commercially available clay (Kaolin).  This experiment will study different percentages of co-product additives and different curing periods.  Control tests will be performed on un-stabilized soil and un-stabilized Kaolin to determine the extent to which co-products provide stability and strength.  This project is environmentally friendly and sustainable because it uses a low-value waste product. 

Faculty Mentor: Prabir Kolay, Civil and Enviornmental Engineering


Theresa Heitz

Major: Animal Science

Title: The stability of essentail fatty acids in dog foods during storage

Abstract: The goal of this research project is to measure the remaining nutrient content within dog foods after they have been stored in conditions where the food is exposed to light, oxygen, and room temperature. The main nutrient focus will be placed on the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to a dog’s health. They are very beneficial for many functions of the body and they play a key component in the development of growing puppies. This project will be centered around seeing how much of the useable fatty acid content within the dog food deteriorates over the time from when it is distributed to when the dog would theoretically consume it. In this way we will be able to see how much of the essential fatty acids the dog is actually able to use from the food at the time of consumption. We expect to find that the longer the food is stored the more oxidation of these essential fatty acids will occur, which would result in the dogs not getting all the omega-3 fatty acids that they need. We also expect to see a difference between the food being sealed or unsealed over these periods of time. If the food has been sealed we expect that there will be less oxidation to these fatty acids. Whereas if the food has been unsealed we believe that this will result in a higher amount of fatty acids that have been oxidized.

Faculty Mentor: Amer AbuGhazaleh, Animal Science, Food, and Nutrition


Michael Holm

Major: Anthropology and Zoology

Title: Prediction of wavespeed in amoebae genus dictyostelium

Abstract: There are a number of ecological phenomena that involve the wavelike spread of organisms through space, known as traveling waves. One type of traveling wave are those generated by predators attacking a region occupied by prey. In order to study the formation of these waves, it would be useful to have a predator-prey system that can easily be manipulated in the laboratory. The amoebas in the genus Dictyostelium are a possible system for this type of study. When feeding on bacteria, feeding fronts are formed that resemble the invasion waves of predators in both models and large-scale natural systems. The theory for such systems makes quantitative predictions about wave speed, which is determined by the predator reproductive and diffusion rates. All these quantities can be measured in the Dictyostelium system, making it possible to compare the observed wavespeed with theoretical predictions. In our experiments, we will be observing the wavespeed, reproduction rate, and diffusion rate across different species and strains of Dictyostelium. Previous work has already shown ample variation occurs in wave speed across groups, which presumably reflects differences in reproduction and diffusion rates. By using our results, new models may be formed to explain the type of wave formation and movement that has been seen with Dictyostelium.

Faculty Mentor: John Reeve, Zoology


Kristina Jordan

Major: Plant Biology

Title: Aphylogenetic and morphological study of Hispaniolan trema and the occurrence of interspecific hybridization

Abstract: The island of Hispaniola is one location where the taxonomically unresolved Neotropical pioneer tree species Trema micrantha (L.) Blume can be found. This is also the location of possible interspecific hybridization, a phenomenon that is likely contributing to the confusion of the taxonomy of Trema. Currently, the name T. micrantha is being used to describe several distinct lineages of Trema, meaning that this is not a monophyletic group. My research will help to determine whether interspecific hybridization is occurring on Hispaniola, focusing on the two possible hybrids T. micrantha X cubensis and T. micrantha X lamarkiana. Using standard laboratory protocols, I will extract and amplify DNA from herbarium specimens to gather molecular phylogenetic data, which will help to resolve the currently chaotic phylogeny of Trema. This will allow for a better understanding of the evolutionary relationships within the genus. I will then prepare samples for imaging via Scanning Electron Microscopy to gather morphological data to determine whether there are any defining leaf morphological characters that can be used to distinguish lineages of Trema from one another. Interspecific hybridization will be determined not only by studying phylogenetic relationships, but also by using the defining morphological characters that will be determined by this study and testing if those characters are intermediate in samples of the two potential hybrids. This research will further the field of systematics by bringing clarity to the evolutionary relationships within Trema, defining morphological characters that can be used in the future to identify species within the genus, and by documenting interspecific hybridization occurring on Hispaniola.

Faculty Mentors: Kurt Neubig, Plant Biology; Nancy Garwood, Plant Biology


Ayush

Ayush Kohli

Major: Computer Science

Title: Malicious activities of android applications obtained from unofficial marketplaces

Abstract: The popularity of the Android OS has seen 1.6 millions Android applications available on the official Google Play market as well as multiple alternative marketplaces. Since applications available on the unof- ficial marketplaces are often subject to less scrutiny, the applications downloaded from those marketplaces are more likely to contain malicious code to potentially leak sensitive user information. Moreover, rogue developers often upload repackaged versions of popular applications in those alternative marketplaces with malicious code injected. Since alternative marketplaces offer Android applications at reduced prices or even free, users are often tempted to download applications from those marketplaces. In a pilot study, I found differences among the four versions of a popular Android application downloaded from four different marketplaces supporting my suspicion about those alternative marketplaces. Unfortunately, current research techniques often fail to identify those repackaged malicious Android applications. Therefore, this research aims to identify the differences among the multiple versions of the same android application obtained from alternative marketplaces and propose a new technique based on static analysis to identify repackaged android applications. On this goal, I plan to develop a program using the IC3 Android analysis framework to extract attributes of the Android applications and compare those attributes to find differences among the multiple versions of the same android application. I plan to analyze the most popular Android applications obtained from the official Google Play Store and the alternative marketplaces. Based on the results of those analyses, I plan to design a machine learning technique to identify the repackaged android applications more effectively than the current techniques. Moreover, this research will be able to assist the Android users in identifying potentially safe or unsafe Android marketplaces.

Faculty Mentor: Amiangshu Bosu, Computer Science


Julia Mosebach

Major: Psychology

Title: Examining the effects of cognitive control on repetitive negative thinking and depression in children

Abstract: Repetitive negative thinking (RNT), or rumination, is a form of self-reflection that contributes to depressive symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky 2008). Rumination and negative cognitive styles work together to predict duration and severity of depression. Some studies contend that rumination interacts with cognitive styles to affect not only depression, but other forms of psychopathology (e.g., Watkins, 2008). So, it is possible that rumination may predict mood disorders in children because of underlying deficits in cognitive control. However, the effects of rumination on mood disorders and cognitive control in children specifically has been largely understudied. Moreover, it is possible that cognitive control deficits—that is, deficiencies in the way one processes information and directs attention (Lachman & Butterfield 2015; De Raedt & Koster 2010)—may serve as a gateway for RNT. For example, one study found that children with deficits in cognitive control were more likely to have greater depression and anxiety severity later (Kertz et al. 2015). The current study would expand upon the Kertz et al (2015) findings by further analyzing the associations between cognitive control and RNT in the prediction of child emotion. Using a sample of 15 children, the proposed study has two main goals: (1) explore the effects of a stressor/RNT induction on cognitive control in children, and (2) examine if baseline cognitive control deficits in children predict their negative affect and repetitive negative thinking in response to a stressor. The current study hypothesizes that RNT will be associated with decreases in cognitive control and that children with greater deficits in cognitive control at baseline will have greater RNT and negative emotion in response to a stressor.

Faculty Mentor: Sarah Kertz, Psychology


Sherry Rasmussen

Major: Biological Sciences

Title: Examination of the time course expression of DUSP6 following rehabiliation with enviornmental enrichment

Abstract: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in children aged 0-16 (Michaud, et al., 1993; Faul, et al., 2010).The purpose of this study is to determine the expression of dual specificity phosphate 6 (DUSP6) following pediatric traumatic brain injury. DUSP6 mRNA levels are important to know during the recovery period because this molecule can dramatically impact a molecular signal that promotes the neural plasticity seen in the recovery process. Rehabilitation through environmental enrichment has been regarded as a preclinical version for treating the cognitive deficits that follow injury (Bondi C.O, 2014). Treating brain injury with exposure to an enriched environment can affect the levels of ERK1/2 (a target of DUSP6), but how enriched environment impacts DUSP6 levels at various points during treatment is not entirely known. Based upon pilot gene array data it is expected that the level of DUSP6 will be higher at the end of the experiment, but it remains to be determined what they are from the start to end of the experiment. It is expected that the DUSP6 mRNA levels are alteredfor the enriched environment rats throughout the experiment and if this is the case then the question turns to how DUSP6 impacts plasticity following treatment.

Faculty Mentor: Michael Hylin, Psychology


Austin Szubryt

Austin Szubryt

Major: Plant Biology

Title: Systematics of Euthamia (Asteraceae)

Abstract: Systematics, the classification of organisms, has faced considerable challenges in accurately illustrating the evolution of species throughout time (phylogenies). Much of the confusion stems from improper or careless organization based on insufficient and artificial characters (traits). The genus Euthamia, commonly called the flat-top goldenrods, is a collection of native and ecologically important species which has faced such issues. There is wide-spread confusion regarding the taxonomic placement of species and subspecies names. Many have even been placed into its sister taxon, Solidago. Our project aims to resolve this matter and correctly identify phylogenetic relationships regarding this genus in the sunflower family. Thankfully, the advent of DNA-based analyses allows us now to quantify and evaluate differences between organisms’ genomes (their complete set of genetic material). These techniques provide the opportunity to develop very realistic hypotheses of how species are related. The derived data from these types of projects allow the scientific community to construct models predicting biogeographical distribution and ecological shifts in our increasingly dynamic world. To ensure accuracy with our work, my advisor, Dr. Kurt Neubig, and I will employ a two-pronged approach examining both nuclear and plastomes (entire plastid genome) DNA. The DNA regions of interest from the nucleus will be Internal Transcribed Spacers (ITS), non-coding regions which show considerable variation between species. The plastome DNA is different from nuclear genomes and provides additional sources of mutations (changes in DNA sequences) for comparison and greatly expands upon available data. By using two sets of data, the coverage and depth of our results will accurately resolve the phylogeny of Euthamia. We seek to resolve improper classification of native flora and provide a quintessential basis for wildlife managers, land developers, ecologists, and botanists.

Faculty Mentor: Kurt Neubig, Plant Biology


Chad Weaver

Chad Weaver

Major: Finance

Title: Socio-economic status related to enviornmental performance in Flordia's air pollution

Abstract: Air Pollution in Florida is starting to play a big role by poisoning the air and shortening humans’ and animals’ life span. Our object0ive in this research project is to not only state the problems that are arising in Florida’s air, but also come up with solutions to reduce Florida pollution.  Residents, municipal wastewater treatment plants, and large industries are dumping untreated pollution into streams and rivers, expanding the problem. The substance that is created by emission of cars and other sources that are reacted by the sun is called ozone (smog). Smog is a white fog that arises when it is reacted by the sun, becoming extremely harmful to humans by harming the respiratory system. Research will be focused towards collecting data from all 68 counties in Florida and finding ways to sustain their air pollution levels. 

Faculty Mentor: Royce Burnett, Accounting


Kyle Whittington

Major: Biological Sciences

Title: The impact of FOXO1 inhibition on pituitary function 

Abstract: FOXO1 is a forkhead box transcription factor found in various places within the body, one of which is the pituitary gland. FOXO1 is vital for the organism’s survival; embryos without FOXO1 do not develop vasculature and die before birth. FOXO1 has been linked to cell specification and various other cellular processes. The pituitary gland, which controls the body’s hormones, contains five different types of endocrine cells that secrete hormones. Somatotropes are one of these cell types. Somatotropes produce growth hormone, which regulates growth and metabolism. In order for the pituitary to get these five cell types the cells must differentiate from stem cells. FOXO1 plays a vital role in cell differentiation and proliferation in many tissues. Consistent with this, somatotrope numbers are decreased in mouse embryos lacking Foxo1 in the pituitary gland. However, in order to study these effects one must perform multiple levels of breeding to create a mouse without the Foxo1 gene in the pituitary gland. This is a time intensive and costly process that will result in the birth of many mice that are not vital to research. I hypothesize that FOXO1 inhibitors will have the same impact on mice that deletion of the Foxo1 gene has – a decrease in somatotropes. I am currently studying the amount of cell division in mice with and without FOXO1 by labeling dividing cells with BrdU. This project has given me the skills and knowledge to properly execute my REACH proposal. These experiments will help determine FOXO1’s specific role within the pituitary and it’s impact on our body’s growth and development. These experiments are also potentially applicable to human pituitary hormone deficiencies.

Faculty Mentor: Buffy Ellsworth, Physiology