Researching Stem Cells using Zebrafish at Clarkson University

Kenneth Wallace, associate professor of biology at Clarkson University, has been awarded a $420,000 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development at the National Institutes of Health to investigate development of intestinal stem cells using the zebrafish vertebrate model system.

“Within the lumen of the digestive system where the food passes, there is a layer of cells that regulates nutrients entering the body, » says Wallace. « As these cells are continuously exposed to harsh digestive enzymes and mechanical abrasion, they constantly turn over. Constant turnover is accomplished by having multiple stem cell compartments throughout the intestine that produce replacements over the life of the organ.”

While much has been discovered about how stem cells are controlled during the adult phase, much less is known about the origins of these stem cell compartments. Little is known about when the stem cells form and how they are regulated. To uncover more about how stem cells are regulated during development of the intestine, Wallace will use zebrafish, which have become a widely-used vertebrate model system.

Zebrafish are a common aquarium fish, which are small easy to care for and have embryos that develop rapidly in an external environment. They also share more than 70 percent of their genes with humans, making them an excellent system to study both development and the origins of disease. Understanding of the genes and mechanisms involved in formation and regulation of the fish intestinal stem cells will provide information about how human intestinal stem cells are regulated.

Aside from the main research component, a secondary goal of the grant and project is to provide resources for undergraduate Clarkson University students to perform independent research on the molecular and cellular basis of embryonic development under Wallace’s supervision. This will give them first-hand knowledge of developmental biology research practices and perhaps pique future interest in the field and research.

“This grant will give more students the opportunity for hands-on learning in the lab for the next three years and hopefully ignite their interest for working in developmental biology and research,” says Wallace. “It’s an important aspect of the grant to continue training the next generation of scientists in our field.”

Wallace received his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the Ohio State University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Wallace has been a Clarkson faculty member since 2004. He has also previously received additional competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.