Lucy Liu, a student in the Bellen Lab at Baylor College of Medicine Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, has been awarded the prestigious Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Liu is one of 13 award recipients chosen by a selection committee of Fred Hutchinson faculty members and students for the quality, originality and significance of their work. Named for the late Dr. Harold Weintraub, the award honors Weintraub's scientific leadership in the field of molecular biology and his legacy as an extraordinary mentor, colleague, collaborator and friend.
"It is truly an honor to receive the Weintraub Award. I am grateful to my mentor, Dr. Hugo Bellen, my graduate program and my colleagues for creating a nurturing and collaborative environment," Liu said.
Under the mentorship of Dr. Hugo Bellen, professor of neuroscience at Baylor and a Howard Hughes Investigator, Liu's research focuses on how altering the process of lipid metabolism contributes to neurodegeneration. Using three mutations isolated in the lab, all of which exhibit lipid droplet accumulation in the nervous system prior to signs of neurodegeneration, she is determining the mechanisms that are a part of this process and ultimately how that affects human neurologic diseases.
Her studies have demonstrated that support cells (glia) of the brain accumulate lipids in the form of lipid droplets prior to any physical manifestations of neuronal dysfunction that occur in neurodegenerative diseases. This is a protective mechanism against oxidative stress. This accumulation is conserved in mammals and reducing oxidative stress reduces the accumulation of these lipid droplets. This phenomenon was not previously described. These findings have great translational promise because the pre-neurodegeneration lipid droplets may serve as a biomarker for diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases before physical manifestations of the disease.
Liu received her award at the May 5, 2017, award symposium at the Fred Hutch campus in Seattle. She along with the other awardees presented their research and had the opportunity to discuss their work with other students and faculty in attendance. Their studies explore areas as far ranging as evolvability and order in the nervous system, how microbiome dynamics may control host immunity and metabolism and innovative treatment strategies for mitochondrial disease.