Using mathematical sciences to study biochemical changes in cells
Ms Eleni Kinfe Degaga graduated from AIMS in 2008, after which she joined the Physics Department at Syracuse University in New York and obtained her Master’s in Physics in 2011, and is now working towards her PhD. Besides completing the 51 credit hour course work requirement, passing the PhD qualifying examination, and working as a teaching assistant, she worked in experimental soft condensed matter and biophysics research group with Prof. Martin Forstner working on two interdisciplinary projects focusing on how cells respond to mechanical forces or external perturbations.
“After AIMS I got to know the person I want to be”
She studied the change in the biochemical response of the spectrin-based membrane skeleton exposed to mechanical forces. Cells are exposed to mechanical forces in the form of stretch, shear stress, and hydrostatic pressure and they transduce this forces to physical as well as biochemical responses. The ability of cells to respond to changes in their physical environments is vital in the maintenance of physiological processes that affect the entire body.
Mechanotransduction modulates diverse functions such as ubiquitination, cell migration, protein synthesis, secretion, cell adhesion, apoptosis, proliferation, etc. As a result, most of the time defects in mechanotransduction through acquired environmental mutations results in various diseases. She says we have to contribute a lot towards the identification of major mechanical signal transducers and towards the investigation of their clear bio-mechanical properties inside cells.
At Syracuse University, Eleni was a Faculty for the Future Fellow from the Schlumberger Foundation. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Physics Department at Georgetown University and is working on developing traction force and total internal reflection microscopy methods for the contribution to study the connection among growth cone mechanics, guidance and motility.