Recognizing Science Education and Student Researchers

Kyra Patton with her project poster.

Many of us at OHSU have had the opportunity to both mentor young scientists and evaluate their projects at Oregon’s regional and statewide science fairs. We are often amazed at the intellectual sophistication and dedication of these middle and high school-aged students. It is even a greater pleasure for those of us at CROET when the student’s research is completed within CROET laboratories.

Kyra Patton, of Beaverton’s Sunset High School, recently presented results of a study showing that a performance enhancing drug, known as Acadesine or AICAR, causes neurodegeneration in the brain of a commonly used laboratory research animal. Kyra’s presentation, entitled “The Role of the AMP-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK) in Neurodegeneration in Drosophila melanogaster”, was awarded First Place for Cellular and Molecular Biology at the 11th annual Beaverton Hillsboro Science Expo on February 15, 2013. The project was mentored by CROET’s Doris Kretzschmar, Ph.D., and OHSU’s Show-Ling Shyng, Ph.D. Kyra’s project advanced last weekend to the Oregon state science fair, the Intel Northwest Science Expo (NWSE), where it was recognized as the winner of the biological science category and she was awarded scholarships by the University of Portland and Lewis and Clark College.

Acadesine is a drug that activates AMP-Kinase, a key energy sensor activity-switch in animal cells.  Acadesine was developed as a potential treatment for diseases like diabetes and cancer, that involve abnormal cellular metabolism. It has also been found to increase neuromuscular performance by changing muscle cell physiology, and has been banned as a PED by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people worldwide, in developed and developing countries alike. Many neurodegenerative disorders involve accumulated defects in core biochemical pathways required to maintain the long “axon” processes that neurons use to communicate with cells across the body.

Kyra initially planned to see if she could protect brain cells from energy-stress by stimulating AMP-Kinase activity with acadesine, after Dr. Kretzschmar’s group had found that genetic mutations that blocked AMP-Kinase activity caused neurodegeneration in the brains of Drosophila. Unexpectedly, Kyra found that acadesine provided in the Drosophila food caused holes to rapidly form in their brains from the death of nerve cells. In addition, rather than being neuroprotective, acadesine greatly increased the extent of neurodegeneration caused by other agents. Kyra theorized that neurons die when AMP-Kinase activity is un-coupled from other energy-activated processes. The results of her research suggest great caution may be required in using AMP-Kinase as a target in either disease-treatment or performance-enhancement applications. Special thanks are offered to Mandy Cook, Ph.D., and Bonnie Bolkan, Ph.D., for mentoring Kyra in the Kretzschmar Lab.

We offer our congratulations to Kyra and other young scientists uncovering new discoveries  and demonstrating the power and importance of science education.

Learn more about CROET research.