GPGG Student Publishes In PLOS Genetics

in Recent News
May 5th, 2014

PhD Candidate, Andy Hoss Publishes in PLOS Genetics

The Graduate Program in Genetics and Genomics (GPGG) at the Boston University School of Medicine has a history of attracting successful students who go on to make significant contributions to the field.  We thought we’d take an opportunity to sit down with one student – in light of his most recent academic success – to ask about what makes him tick.

1.     What made you choose GPGG?

I worked at the Broad Institute of MIT in the genomics platform for some time before deciding to work towards a doctoral degree. While I was there, I started off in the core facility. Here, our group was tasked to sequence large mammalian genomes using Sanger sequencing, the same technology used to sequence the human genome. These projects required enormous expensive, support, and automated laboratory equipment. The human genome cost something like $3B. The year following my start date, I witnessed the rapid transition from large scale Sanger Sequencing to next generation sequencing technologies. In the next years, the cost of a large genome dropped to $10K. I observed first hand what could be done, leveraging these amazing technological advances to advance genomics.

 

2.     Tell us a little about your research in the program.

In the Myers lab, we study the genetics of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. For my dissertation project, I’m comparing the gene expression patterns of diseased and non-diseased human brain using next-generation sequencing of large and small RNAs, to attempt to understand the molecular mechanisms that may be involved in Huntington’s disease pathology and progression.

 

3.     You recently published in PLOS Genetics. Tell us a little about your article?

Huntington’s disease is an inherited fatal neurological disorder that commonly affects people in midlife. Past studies have implicated abnormal patterns gene expression as a candidate for causing the death of the brain cells affected in HD. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small molecules that regulate and usually reduce the expression of genes. We measured the levels of miRNAs, as well as the levels of gene expression (mRNAs) in twelve HD and nine control brain samples. We found five miRNAs that were greatly increased in their expression in the HD brains, including three that were not expressed at all in the normal samples. Four of these were related to important characteristics of the disease expression, including the age at disease onset, and the age at death of the individual. We examined which genes these miRNAs target for regulation and many of these were also altered in their expression in the HD samples. Surprisingly, most of these had increased expression. One of the miRNAs, miR- 196a-5p was previously implicated in enhancing the survival of brain cells in HD, and it may be that other miRNAs that we identified may also promote neuron survival and may hold new clues for treatments in HD.

 

4.     Now that you’ve successfully published this research, do you have plans for another project(s)?

Since the study was published, we’ve double our study size, which has allowed us the power to observe many more genes that are altered in expression in HD brain.  In the next months, we will attempt explain the functional relevance of these genetic changes using HD cellular models.

 

5.     What would you say to any students looking to apply to the Graduate Program for Genetics and Genomics (GPGG)?

In my experience in GPGG, I’ve had the opportunity to learn statistical genetics, bioinformatics and cell biology. It’s been comprehensive and extremely useful in my research. Also, being on the medical campus, you have the ability to perform translational studies and direct contact with the clinic, if that’s what you want.

 

6.     What’s your favorite part of being a BU student?

I’ve found the BU community to be extremely collaborative. It’s filled with pretty much any resource you’re looking for. The quality of the seminars has been fantastic. The school is very urban. And I love Boston!

 

Andy’s publication can be found here: http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1004188