Updated 02/28/2013 04:40 PM
Study at Clarkson aims to help digestive disorders
A biology professor at Clarkson University is expanding an ongoing research project that could help people with digestive disorders. But the study isn't looking at humans, or even your typical lab animals like mice or rats. Barry Wygel takes a look at what his work entails.
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POTSDAM, N.Y. -- What do you have in common with this zebra fish? Probably more than you think.
"The zebra fish system is very similar, the digestive system and the system in general, is very similar to humans," said Prof. Kenneth Wallace, a biology professor at Clarkson University.
Wallace and his research partners are looking at the ways cells develop in the digestive system in the zebra fish.
"We'll use that information to get more ideas about how human development goes on," said Wallace.
The cells in the digestive system have very short life-spans and therefore communicate with the body differently than regular cells. Special cells develop called "secretory cells," that exist to communicate for the cells that cannot.
"Those secretory cells go on to differentiate through a pathway in order to determine which type of secretory cell it is going to become," said Wallace.
And that's where Wallace's research comes in. He is looking at the why. Why a cell becomes the type of cell it becomes.
“If you remove something and it does something and if you put it back and it does something else, you can kind of get an idea as to how the pathway is functioning," said Wallace.
Professor Wallace recently received an additional grant that allowed him to double the size of his laboratory space continuing this ongoing experiment.
"We're getting a lot more mutants and transgenics," said Wallace.
As the experiment has gone on, the fish have begun showing different patterns in their genes, such as this embryo shown under a microscope. The darkened sections on the top are the individual cells in the digestive track that are being studied.
"The experiments we do will get written up," said Wallace.
Those reports are then used by other scientists for the basis of other experiments. The goal is to one day use the knowledge to help humans deal with their own digestive issues.
Wallace's work was recently published in the journal of Developmental Biology. For a link to his work and to learn more about the experiment going on at Clarkson University, visit www.sciencedirect.com.