By Wendy Sarubbi | December 2, 2011 2:10 pm

An undergraduate student in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences is part of a research team that presented findings about how oxidative changes could affect cells during the 18th Annual Meeting of the Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

Senior Sarah Gitto, who is studying microbiology, molecular biology and health sciences/preclinical, participated in a poster session on “Nitrated Hsp90 Decreases Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and Oxygen Consumption” at the November gathering in Atlanta.  Dr. Maria Clara Franco, a postdoctoral associate at the Burnett school and Dr. Alvaro G. Estevez, associate professor at the Burnett school, directed the research.

“I enjoy research because it allows me to apply what I learned in textbooks to basic science,” said Sarah, who does undergraduate research for Dr. Estevez, who is also her mentor.

Mitochondria function as power plants for cells. They act to convert electron energy into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. The ATP flows out of the mitochondria to wherever work needs to be done.

The study focused on Hsp90, one of the heat-shock proteins that assist in the formation of other proteins.  Hsp90 is essential for cell survival, proliferation and ultimately cell self-destruction. Hsp90 interacts with about 300 proteins to manage the cell’s life cycle.

Researchers have found that the protein can become “nitrated,” or modified through oxidation, indicating the presence of diseases such as cancer or kidney disease.

Understanding how nitrated protein affects the mitochondrial membrane could lead to a better understanding of conditions such as neurodegeneration, trauma to the central nervous system, stroke and glioblastoma, a deadly and aggressive brain cancer.

Research such as this not only fosters potential advances in science, it also shapes minds.

Students “learn to learn” through research, Dr. Estevez said. “I love to work with undergraduates,” he said. “It’s a way for them to see that whatever they are reading in books is a reality.”

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