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>  News Releases >   2006 >   August

Research of the heart - a recent graduate stays on for the summer

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 08/08/06 • Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661

Diana Geisser, who graduated from Dartmouth just a few months ago, hasn't left campus yet. With a fellowship from the American Heart Association (AHA), she's spending her summer trying to make and purify the protein caveolin in an effort to understand its atomic structure. Caveolin is involved in cholesterol transport, thus the interest in and support from AHA. The AHA's Northeast Summer Student Fellowship Research Program awarded only six fellowships in 2006 to undergraduates involved in cardiovascular research.

Diana Geisser and Jon Kull
Diana Geisser '06 with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jon Kull. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Geisser has been in pursuit of caveolin's structure since January 2005, the winter term of her junior year. With initial funding from the chemistry department through a John L. Zabriskie Jr. '61 Undergraduate Research Fellowship, she has learned to use bacteria to make the protein, but the challenge lies in getting enough protein that's pure enough. This summer, with time to devote to the project, Geisser reports that she's making progress.

"The trick is to create large quantities of well-behaved protein that we can crystallize," she says. "Then we solve its atomic structure to see how it's put together."

Her advisor, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jon Kull, who is a 1988 graduate of Dartmouth, explains that caveolin is involved in transporting cholesterol across cell membranes. In doing so, it decreases the amount of LDL, the bad cholesterol. Knowing how cholesterol binds to caveolin will have significant implications for the medical community.

"Work on this protein is still in the early stages," says Kull. "It's sometimes difficult to get research like this off the ground, because it's risky; it might not lead anywhere. At Dartmouth, though, Diana received support to pursue this at the undergraduate level, which eventually led to the fellowship from the AHA."

Kull says that the American Heart Association should be commended for promoting new research and for encouraging young investigators in their careers. Kull was familiar with this program because he also receives some funding from AHA for his research, which involves determining the structures and mechanisms of molecular motor proteins.

Geisser, a chemistry major from Cheshire, Conn., is planning to apply to medical school. In the meantime, she can be found most days at her lab bench.

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