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Feature   |  Summer 2007

Cellular clues

Animal sciences researcher looks for links between egg quality and disease development


Chronic cramping in her left foot was Linda Hinkle's first clue that something was wrong. A twitch in her left ring finger and then stiffness in her neck and shoulder areas were the next symptoms.

head of woman

It took a year, but, at age 56, Hinkle finally had the diagnosis—Parkinson's disease, an ailment that causes tremors in limbs, rigidity, slowness of movement and loss of balance. Most people have heard of the disease because of famous people stricken with it—Katharine Hepburn, Pope John Paul II, Mohammed Ali and Michael J. Fox.

Whether in well-known people or your neighbor, Parkinson's can progress at various rates and affect each person somewhat differently. These variations explain why sometimes diagnosis takes a long time and the illness sometimes initially is thought to be a different neurodegenerative disorder, such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's disease.

man in lab

Zoltan Machaty (left) and doctoral student Kiho Lee are among the Purdue scientists who hope their research in animal egg development will help discover what triggers adult-onset diseases, such as Parkinson's, in humans.
Photo Credit: Tom Campbell

Purdue University researchers are investigating very basic factors that may underlie disease development. Their work could lead to new treatments and even cures for Parkinson's, which develops in adulthood, and many other illnesses.

Eggs, the single cells that create life

Three Purdue Agriculture scientists are focused on the egg, or oocyte, the single cell in all vertebrate animals that joins with sperm to trigger cell division, the beginning of an embryo. They want to determine why some eggs develop into embryos while others don't, and why some embryos develop abnormally.

What researchers Rebecca Krisher, Zoltan Machaty and Ryan Cabot learn will aid in finding answers to what triggers many diseases, from infertility to Parkinson's.

All three animal scientists are members of the Center for Comparative Medicine, a collaboration between Purdue University's Department of Animal Sciences and School of Veterinary Medicine and the Indiana University School of Medicine. Researchers from the center are devoted to studying genes and disease processes that are the same or similar in both animals and humans.

Krisher, Machaty and Cabot are asking two fundamental questions: "How does egg quality affect its development?" and "What factors impact egg quality and newly fertilized eggs and embryos?"

"The more I learn about oocytes, the more I realize how important they are in development," Krisher says. "They have an effect on embryo development, fetal development, postnatal development. They affect the development processes of a lot of different cells. We have evidence from work in mice that quality of the egg and how it is manipulated in the lab can cause adult-onset diseases."




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