Kaitlyn Hajdarovic, a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown, is investigating the details of cellular aging with the goal of paving the way for treatments for age-related diseases. She conducts her research in the laboratory of Ashley Webb, the Richard and Edna Salomon Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry.
Hajdarovic is developing a novel cell reprogramming platform, called "direct reprogramming," to study aging in the hypothalamus brain region. The hypothalamus controls critical processes, such as sleep, temperature regulation, eating, and metabolism, that can become dysregulated with aging. With direct reprogramming, Hajdarovic is able to convert a skin cell, for example, into a brain cell that maintains the hallmarks of aging.
"I am developing a strategy to recreate, in a dish, a type of brain cell that controls feeding," Hajdarovic said.
Starting from mouse skin cells, Hajdarovic aims to generate specific hypothalamic brain cells, called POMC neurons. Normally, these cells trigger satiety (the feeling of being full), but they lose the ability to do so as they age.
"My project specifically will uncover the mechanisms that underlie changes in feeding behavior during aging, and how those changes can be ameliorated to improve function," she said. "As we age, we lose lean body mass and gain fat. Most aging humans gain weight, especially around the midsection."
Hajdarovic's research could be useful to others studying obesity and diabetes, even in patients who aren't at an advanced age. She is one of four students who received this year's Graduate Awards in Brain Science from Brown's Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science. The awards recognize graduate students who have made outstanding research progress and demonstrate strong potential for successful lifelong scientific careers. Recipients get stipend and tuition support for a full year, as well as additional funds to present their work at a scientific meeting, meet with collaborators, or attend special workshops.