"For most people, flies are a household nuisance. But Ryan Schutte has found a greater purpose for the little buzzers. They’re helping him uncover clues to a severe form of childhood epilepsy.
Schutte, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in UC Irvine’s Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology working in the laboratories of Diane O’Dowd and Martin Smith, is using fruit flies to model fever-induced seizures similar to those seen in Dravet syndrome.
The insects have been genetically modified to carry a mutation that causes Dravet syndrome in humans, and they allow Schutte to study how these mutations affect communication among brain cells. In collaboration with postdoctoral fellow Lei Sun, he’s discovered that cell membrane channels key to nerve cell signaling open more slowly and close more quickly in the brains of Dravet flies.
Many children with Dravet syndrome experience not only violent seizures but also poor development of language and motor skills, hyperactivity and difficulty relating to others. Furthermore, Dravet seizures are often not well controlled with classic anti-epileptic drugs. With the new fly model of Dravet seizures, Schutte and Sun are now screening novel compounds to treat this and similar forms of epilepsy.
It’s important work, and Schutte’s research and dedication have earned him a 2012-13 UCI/Stanley Behrens Public Impact Fellowship. This is the fifth year that UC Irvine’s Graduate Division has awarded $10,000 Public Impact Fellowships and the first year that two students meeting specific criteria have each received a $20,000 UCI/Stanley Behrens Public Impact Fellowship.
“Ryan has tremendous potential as a researcher,” says Smith, professor of anatomy & neurobiology. “He’s smart, incredibly hardworking and enthusiastic – a person who sees only good things happening. That’s just the temperament one needs to be a scientist.”"
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