A Johns Hopkins undergraduate has developed a two-dimensional computer model that simulates the inner workings of a tiny amoeba that behaves like a human white blood cell. Her electronic model is aiding biologists who believe these microscopic animals hold the key to creating new treatments for diseases ranging from asthma and psoriasis to cancer.
Jane H. Kim, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, presented her model at the International Symposium on Computational Cell Biology, held recently in Lenox, Mass. The 22-year-old student, a graduate of Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif., focused her research on the chain of events that trigger and guide movement in a widely studied organism called "Dictyostelium discoideum."
A Dictyostelium is a single-celled organism that lives in the soil and feeds on bacteria, living a solitary life until its food supply is exhausted. When these animals begin to starve, they signal each other and join together to form a new multicellular organism. This process of picking up chemical signals and moving toward the source is called chemotaxis. It closely resembles the way in which human white blood cells track down and destroy bacteria and other pathogens that release a chemical "scent" or trail. Biologists who study Dictyostelium believe that understanding chemotaxis will help them develop new drug therapies for a range of diseases
Kim's collaborators say her chemotaxis simulation represents very advanced research. "I think it is highly unusual for an undergraduate to develop such a complex model," said Chris Janetopoulos, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Not only does Jane seem to grasp the biological phenomena, she also has a firm understanding of computer modeling and programing." Janetopoulos has worked with Kim to determine how well her model predicts the behavior of live Dictyostelium
Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University