Photo of Elyse Bolterstein (center) with biology students Vada Becker and Derek Epiney at the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Conference.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Northeastern Illinois University students and faculty members have published an article describing a new way to study Werner syndrome, a rare genetic disease characterized by the early onset of aging, increased risk of cancer and other age-related conditions such as diabetes. The article, “Evidence for premature aging in a Drosophila model of Werner syndrome,” is published online now and will appear in the November 2019 issue of Experimental Gerontology.

The research uses mutant Drosophila (commonly known as fruit flies) that have similar characteristics to humans with Werner syndrome. Specifically, the research found that Werner syndrome flies have shorter life spans, more tumors, lower body fat, muscle deterioration and altered behavioral patterns when compared with the wild-type controls.

“This research is exciting because we can now use this model of accelerated aging to answer questions like how exposure to different chemicals or environmental conditions might cause cancer and disease in aged populations,” Assistant Professor of Biology Elyse Bolterstein said.

This research and subsequent publication of the article also showcases opportunities students at Northeastern have to be part of research teams doing important work in science. This particular study spanned several years.

“Being part of a research team is an amazing experience for students,” Bolterstein said. “They get to work as part of a collaborative environment to answer new research questions. In addition to learning new lab techniques, they develop skills that are helpful for any career path such as data recording and analysis, working as part of a team, and communication skills through writing reports and presenting their work at scientific conferences.”

The research was partially funded through the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative (ChicagoCHEC).

“The ChicagoCHEC leadership at NEIU—namely Christina Cieceirski, Moira Stewart and Dean Michael Stern—encouraged me to apply for a ChicagoCHEC pilot grant because of my work in basic cancer research,” Bolterstein said. “The ChicagoCHEC funds provided a stipend for my student researchers and allowed me to purchase the behavior monitoring equipment that was a key part in describing Werner syndrome flies as an aging model.”

Bolterstein added that the student authors on this paper have presented their work at nine different local, regional and national meetings, including the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Conference annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19 where they also had the opportunity to network with other students and scientists who helped guide them in their career choices.

Charlotte Salameh is one of the co-authors of the paper. Salameh earned her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern this past spring and is now attending UIC’s College of Dentistry.

“Undergraduate research provided me with the opportunity to investigate personal interests outside of the classroom setting,” Salameh said. “Through my research experiences, I was better prepared for graduate school by acquiring well-developed problem solving and critical thinking skills.”

The other co-authors of the paper are Northeastern students Derek Epiney, Deirdre Cassidy, Luhan (Tracy) Zhou, Tufts University faculty members Robert Salomon and Mitch McVey, and Northeastern faculty member Aaron Schirmer.

Top photo: Elyse Bolterstein (center) with biology students Vada Becker (right) and Derek Epiney (left) at the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Conference.