About This Project

Did you know that fruit flies have brains?! Not only do they have brains but their neurons are very similar to ours and can degenerate in the same way that ours do if we have a neurodegenerative disease. This research aims to use fruit fly larva (maggots) to not only learn about the detailed processes of neurodegeneration but also to engage and excite the next generation of research scientists.

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What is the context of this research?

The degeneration of neurons occurs during normal neuronal development and in response to neuronal injury or stress. In humans, advanced again is associated with a large number of neurodegenerative diseases that result from the progressive and irreversible deterioration of neurons. Currently there is no cure for these devastating neuronal disorders. To facilitated the understanding and eventual treatment of these diseases, it is imperative to have molecular insight into the processes that drive neurodegeneration. The goal of my research is to inspire and engage undergraduate researchers in cutting edge biomedical research with the aim of understanding the molecular basis of neurodegeneration.

My lab uses fruit flies to study neurodegeneration because in certain mutations in flies cause motoneuron degeneration which shares many of the cellular hallmarks of degeneration in mammalian neurons. This suggests that common cellular stresses are able to initiate motoneuron degeneration in flies and mammals and that there is a common degenerative signaling pathway. The assay that we use to study neurons degenerating involves dissecting and staining fruit fly neurons and muscles (see image above showing a neuron stained with a marker for neurons in red, a muscle marker in blue, and a marker for surrounding glial cells in green). This assay is easily mastered and allows student researchers the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of genetics, neuroanatomy, and fluorescence microscopy. Additionally, students discover the value of utilizing model organisms in the study of development and disease. My hope is to empower and motivate students to participate in science at the highest levels!

Please refer to my website to learn more about my research interests and laboratory: http://mywebspace.quinnipiac.edu/lckeller/Keller_...

What is the significance of this project?

Within our aging population neurodegeneration is affecting more and more people. It is a biomedical research topic where many unanswered questions remain. My lab utilizes a very simple model organism in order to examine the molecular details of neurons as they degenerate.

What are the goals of the project?

  1. Utilize known mutations in fruit flies that cause progressive degeneration to characterize fruit fly neurons as they degenerate with markers that stain actin, ER, MTs, and lysosomes.
  2. Train undergraduate researchers in micro-dissection, immunofluorescence, and confocal microscopy.


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The entire budget would provide living expenses for a talented undergraduate student named Kyle for ten weeks over the summer. Kyle would love to conduct research in my lab over the summer but he cannot afford not to work. I desperately want to provide Kyle with the opportunity to experience science research firsthand and get excited about science and working in a laboratory. Funding this project would allow Kyle to work on important biomedically relevant science in my laboratory over the summer. Kyle can receive reduced housing on campus at Quinnipiac University but cannot afford it without your help.

Help fund Kyle and neurodegenerative research!!

Endorsed by

There is no question that the fruit fly is an excellent model organism for these studies! In addition, Lani Keller was trained in one of the premiere labs for neurodegenerative disease research, and published a seminal paper on neuron retraction, a key event in neurodegeneration. I can think of no one better to be performing these important studies!
Neurodegenerative diseases are one of the most devastating consequences of human aging. The development of new tools for the detection and treatment of these diseases will require a better understanding of the genetic basis for neurodegeneration. Dr. Keller is aiming to discover and further understand the genetic basis for neurodegeneration. I urge you to support her and her students in this endeavor.
Fruit flies have similar genes and neurons to humans. Studying neurodegeneration in fruit flies will greatly advance the development of pharmacological targets and effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

Meet the Team

Lani C. Keller
Lani C. Keller

Team Bio

I have always had a passion for solving biomedically relevant questions through the use of simple model organisms. My Ph.D. focused on using a small green alga to understand how centrioles and cilia form. In my postdoc I choose to study a topic that will undoubtedly affect all of us somehow within our lives- neurodegeneration. I truly believe that studying fruit flies can help us learn the molecular details that take place during the degeneration of neurons.

Lani C. Keller

I am an educator and research scientist striving to engage and excite the next generation of scientists in research. I grew up in the wild outdoors in Alaska, where moose hunkered down in our yards and filleting salmon quickly became a biology lesson. My entire scientific career has focused on using simple biological model organisms to study complex biomedically problems. During my PhD at the University of California, San Francisco I studied a single-celled green algae to explore the protein make-up of a centriole (a small organelle within all of our cells). Through this process we determined that a large number of human disease proteins are conserved and important for creating a centriole. As a postdoctoral fellow, I studied how a simple fruit fly can be used to study the complexities of neurodegeneration (and yes flies do have brains). I now have my own lab at a teaching university with very little funding for the sciences but this does not deter me from conducting and teaching research and being generally excited about how amazing biology is.

Additional Information

Funding for undergraduate summer research is limited but incredibly important for our future. We need to invest in our future generation of scientists and get them excited about biomedically relevant research projects early in their careers. Please help fund this important endeavor.

Project Backers

  • 39Backers
  • 103%Funded
  • $4,125Total Donations
  • $105.77Average Donation
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