Dr. Nilsen-Hamilton received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Cornell University and served as postdoctoral fellow in Cell Biology at The Salk Institute.
Research Interests -
In fighting almost any disease the ability to detect and treat it in the early stages is critical to a successful outcome. For most diseases there are changes in gene expression and subsequent protein products that could be used for early detection. However, disease-initiated changes often occur in the depths of our tissues. Therefore a challenge for developing new technology to fight disease is to find ways of non-invasive imaging (e.g. no biopsy or surgery) of the body’s status. For example, the group is now using the Lcn2 promoter to drive expression of aptamer reporters that can be used to detect inflammation in transplanted tissues. This aptamer reporter technology is also being developed to monitor gene expression in models systems to gain insight into how cells communicate in their natural environments. These projects all involve the creation of new cells with the additional functional feature of possessing aptamer reporters.
To develop the application of aptamers in the projects just mentioned and for future synthetic biology projects, it is necessary to understand aptamer structure and how it is influenced by ligand binding and by its environment. We collaborate with the Lamm group to develop structural models of aptamers using Molecular Dynamics software and other computational approaches in parallel with biochemical and biophysical analyses for model validation.