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Bioengineers Draw High-School Students into Research

The Target: Understanding Age-Related Heart Disease

As humans age, genetic changes can occur in the heart that are correlated with poor heart function. Do these changes also contribute to a shortened lifespan? Bioengineering professor Adam Engler is working on this question-and he recently added a group of high school students in San Diego to his research team.


Bioengineering graduate student Gaurav Kaushik describes the research project to High Tech High students.

The 11th-grade biology students from High Tech High School ran an eight-week fruit fly study guided by Engler and bioengineering graduate student Gaurav Kaushik.

The flies' hearts had been engineered to have age-related gene expression changes that mirror those found in the aging human heart. Fruit flies are a useful model organism for genetic studies of the human heart-cardiac proteins in the fruit fly are 82 percent similar to those in humans. Also, fruit flies' six-week lifespans allow researchers to study disease cycles in an accelerated mode.

The students' data are in, and Engler is eager to dive into the analysis for this NIH-funded project. He'll be involving his high-school colleagues in the analysis in order to give them a hands-on view of the scientific process from protocols to publications.

"The problems of the 21st century, such as heart disease, cannot be solved unless we take an interdisciplinary approach. This is why I am thrilled that the students will be working on this project in both their biology and mathematics classes," said High Tech High teacher Jesse Wade Robinson.

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