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Undergraduate Researchers

George Cutsail III, Chemistry

Copper Amyloid-beta Complex in Alzheimer’s Disease

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Veronika A. Szalai 

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Extracellular proteinacous plaques of the amyloid-beta (Aβ) peptide are linked to dementia in patients. Metal ions like copper (Cu) are in the Ab plaques from AD patients, but the significance of this finding with regard to disease etiology is unknown. We aim to characterize the interaction of copper with Aβ to elucidate its role in AD. The Aβ gene has been amplified by PCR and ligated into a modified pET-21 vector designed by Dr. Garvie (UMBC, Chemistry and Biochemistry). This vector allows for controlled expression and includes a protease site that allows for cleavage of the Aβ peptide. Expression will be evaluated using gel electrophoresis. The Cu:Ab complex changes its size/structure over time and the effect of these changes on neurotoxicity is not known. We will determine neurotoxicity of these Cu:Ab complexes using a rapid neurotoxicity assay developed by Dr. Good (UMBC, Biochemical Engineering). After we have identified which Cu:Ab complex has the largest effect on neuron survival, we will determine its structure using site directed spin labeling. Correlation of neurotoxicity with Cu:Ab structure will aid drug intervention strategies for AD.


How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

After reading many of the chemistry department’s faculty research profiles, Dr. Szalai’s interest in copper role in Alzheimer’s disease struck me as a great area to research. I simply sent Dr. Szalai an email to set up a meeting to discuss her research.  I have been working with her ever since. I had an interest in inorganic chemistry and this project seemed to be a good fit with my other research experiences in biochemistry.

Is this your first independent research project?

No, I participated in two other research internships before this project

How much time do/did you put into it?

Depends, some weeks I spend just a few hours, but other weeks I have spent much more, sometimes 25+ hours.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award program?

I saw information listed on myUMBC and checked out the website.

Was the application difficult to do?

The application was fairly simple. Just a few questions that are very easy to answer if you have a plan before applying.

How closely do/did you work with your mentor on this project?

My mentor helped me shape the proposal and she assisted me with the final edits of my application. We meet once a week to check the progress of my work and to discuss new directions to take. I am able to work very independently on my project with very dedicated guidance from Dr. Szalai.

What academic background did you have before you started?

At the time I received for the URA Award, I had just finished my sophomore year. I hadn’t yet taken inorganic chemistry until this year, but you don’t need to know everything to do the research. You will learn so much as you go.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

Get involved early, that way you find what you like and you will have more potential to excel with more time.

What are your career goals?

After UMBC, I plan to go to graduate school to earn a PhD in chemistry.  I want to stay in research.

What has been the hardest part about your research?

Sometimes things move very slowly, but then things can fly along the next week. You need patience.

How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

Sometimes it relates, sometimes not. Often I have learned a lot of chemistry and techniques for my research that are simply not covered in undergraduate courses, but basics I have learned can be applied to everything I do.