Mr. Malone’s research focused on identifying factors that regulate the survival of adult neural stem cells. The neural stem cells that exist in the adult brain are capable of turning into all the different types of cells found in the brain. As a result, these stem cells are thought to be one way in which the brain can repair itself when an injury such as a stroke occurs.
One of the major problems with adult neural stem cells is that they often die when they reach a site of brain injury. Mr. Malone discovered that a specific protein, known as Mcl-1, is a crucial survival factor for adult neural stem cells. Mcl-1 had previously been shown to enhance the survival of blood and liver stem cells, but it was not known whether it had a role in adult neural stem cells. The graduate student found that when the concentration of Mcl-1 in neural stem cells was decreased, the cells died. Likewise, when the amount of Mcl-1 in the neural stem cells was increased, the numbers that survive was enhanced.
“Collectively, my results demonstrate that Mcl-1 promotes the survival of neural stem cells in the adult brain,” said Mr. Malone. “Therefore, increasing the amount of Mcl-1 in adult neural stem cells may provide a mechanism for the brain to heal itself after injury has occurred.”
Mr. Malone has been accepted into medical school at Memorial and will begin in September 2012.