Ryan Institute researchers are part of breakthrough studies on “mature” neurons, epigenetics in aging

January 17, 2023

Three Ryan Institute faculty members are co-authors on breakthrough studies published this month at Northwestern University and Harvard Medical School.

Artificial extracellular matrix scaffolds of mobile molecules enhance maturation of human stem cell-derived neurons,” Cell Stem Cell, January 2023

Assistant Professor Kathy Quinlan
Assistant Professor Katharina Quinlan was part of a team at Northwestern University that developed “highly mature” neurons.

Katharina Quinlan, assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, was part of a team at Northwestern University that developed “highly mature” neurons to provide new possibilities for the use of stem cells in neurodegenerative disease research and therapies. Quinlan, who was a research assistant professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine prior to arriving at URI in 2017, worked to characterize the neurons using electrophysiology. 

“This study was exciting because the neurons that were grown in a dish on this new material behave more like adult neurons,” said Quinlan. “This would allow us more broadly to understand what is happening to neurons in adults with neurodegenerative disease –– and more specifically, to use individualized medicine to explore treatments, using cells from individuals that could be grown and matured on this material.”

In her current research at URI, Quinlan investigates the deterioration of spinal and motor neurons in diseases that affect movement, including cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy and ALS. 

Loss of Epigenetic Information as a Cause of Mammalian Aging,” Cell, January 2023

Collaborators Jaime Ross and Giuseppe Coppotelli, assistant professor and research assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, are co-authors on a new study from Harvard Medical School, showing that loss of epigenetic information is a contributor to the aging process.

Assistant Professor Jaime Ross (left) and Research Assistant Professor Giuseppe Coppotelli (right) are co-authors on research on the role of epigenetics in aging published by Harvard Medical School.

Ross and Coppotelli are former researchers in the David Sinclair lab at Harvard Medical School, where they worked on the study before joining the Ryan Institute in 2020.

“This study highlights the role that epigenetic information plays in the aging process,” said Ross. “It is important because it helps us understand more about why aging occurs, as well as how the epigenome could potentially be manipulated to counteract the aging process.”

At URI, Ross and Coppotelli’s research focuses on the roles of gene expression, mitochondrial dysfunction, and chronic inflammation in the aging process, including how these mechanisms contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.