Introduction – Hilary Liu

About Me

Hi! My name is Hilary, and I’m a rising junior majoring in Neuroscience and History and Philosophy of Science. I’m from just outside Philly and a great enthusiast of art, caffeine, and the Oxford comma!

Zinc and the Mitochondria

Approximately 50 million people experience dementia worldwide, with nearly 10 million new cases every year. Additionally, it is projected that almost one in every four Americans will suffer from neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or stroke, in their lifetime. The prevalence and complexity of these diseases make it crucial to understand the underlying mechanisms behind neurodegeneration and work towards methods of treatment for these diseases.

One central component to understanding neuronal cell death and devising methods of neuroprotection is zinc, an element essential for various cellular functions including transcription, enzymatic activity, and cellular signaling. Zinc is particularly important in the mitochondria, where moderate levels of zinc can be protective, but toxic in excess, leading to overproduction of reactive oxygen species. Thus, unregulated levels of zinc can cause oxidative stress that affects cellular detoxification and cell death associated with stroke, traumatic brain injury, and various other neurodegenerative disorders.

Despite the importance of zinc to mitochondrial function, there is a lack of understanding of zinc regulation and the exact mechanism by which zinc leaves the mitochondria. The objective of my project originally was to understand how this zinc efflux occurs by looking specifically at the potential zinc transporter ZnT9, which may be a critical regulator of mitochondrial zinc levels. Due to the current situation, however, I cannot perform experiments in the lab, so I will instead write a literature review on zinc and the mitochondria. Hopefully, the process of reading current literature on the topic, analyzing the information, and synthesizing my own thoughts will provide ideas for future experiments when we return. I will do this work under the guidance of Dr. Elias Aizenman and graduate student Jenna Gale.

Professional Goals and Brackenridge

In the future, I hope to pursue a career in medicine–potentially neurology, psychiatry, or pediatrics. Effectively communicating with patients from a wide variety of backgrounds is essential for physicians, so I hope to strengthen this skill over the course of the Brackenridge Fellowship. I’m also excited to participate in Brackenridge because I will have the opportunity to not only share my research, but also learn about topics that other fellows are studying. I’m very excited to get to know an incredible group of diverse scholars, learning to share my research with people outside my field while broadening my knowledge and interests in a wide spectrum of disciplines!

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