Shermali Gunawardena's research focuses on how genetic mutations in the fruit fly can lead to “traffic jams” in the brain's transport system. Some scientists think such blockages may precede formation of plaques in certain neurological disorders. Gunawardena's work aims to inform new avenues for treating or preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The Gunawardena Lab is now featured in a slideshow by UB Seen.
Cardboard boxes hold plastic tubes housing fruit flies, known to scientists as Drosophila. Some of the fruit fly populations in the lab have genetic mutations that could cause defects in the way vital biological materials travel from one end of a neuron to another.
A scientist examines a vial holding fruit flies. The brown substance at the bottom is fruit fly food, made in-house from ingredients including molasses, soy flour, agar, corn and yeast.
A machine pumps water vapor into the air to keep the room humid, creating an ideal environment for fruit flies. The humidity-controlled lab was built as part of a major renovation of the Department of Biological Sciences’ space in Cooke and Hochstetter halls.
Kelsey Swinter, a master’s student in biological sciences, examines a tube of fruit flies housed in the lab.
Swinter uses a small brush to separate virgin females from other fruit flies under a microscope. This work helps scientists ensure that the insects they are breeding have certain genetic traits. The flies are anesthetized using carbon dioxide prior to this portion of the research.
The Gunawardena lab focuses on how genetic mutations can lead to “traffic jams” in the brain's transport system. Some scientists think such blockages may precede formation of plaques in certain neurological disorders. The work could inform new avenues for treating or preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Published April 3, 2019
Axonal transport and neurodegenerative disease
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Within axons vital cargoes must be transported over great distances along microtubule tracks to maintain cell viability. In neuronal cells, many proteins function in sending and receiving messages, cell repair, and cell protection. My interest is to elucidate if degeneration of neurons in two neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease or Huntington’s/other polyQ diseases), is related to a defect in this long distance transport system and what mechanisms facilitate the normal transport of APP and huntingtin.