Nevine Shalaby, Ph.D. '09
During her first year as a graduate biology student at Boston College, Nevine Shalaby was introduced to the drosophila melanogaster, popularly known as the fruit fly. It was during a core course in genetics, and she was intrigued. Like other small organisms, including single-celled fungi such as yeast, flies offered her a glimpse into some fundamental questions of biology.
Shalaby says her investigations were aided by a strong climate of respect and collaboration among students, professors, and administrators. In fact, the supportive environment was a defining part of her graduate student life at Boston College, she recalls.
“Since the research interests of faculty at BC are so diverse, there is no competition between labs, which brings graduate students very close to one another socially and professionally,” Shalaby says, noting that students worked together to contribute ideas to the department’s research. Referring to the social part—including a morning coffee club, movie nights, and whitewater rafting—she adds, “I really couldn’t have asked for a better student life.”
Her doctoral work focused on aspects of developmental biology. And, in the laboratory where she conducted her research, the fruit fly was used as the model organism.
In particular, she studied a developmental pathway known as Notch Signaling. It is, in short, a signaling system that indicates the fate of a given cell in the development of a fruit fly (and of most other multi-cell organisms, humans included). As Shalaby explains, aberrations in this process lead to mutations in development, causing—in humans—several diseases. Among these are Alzheimer’s and certain forms of cancer such as T-cell lymphoma.
She zeroed in on a group of genes that, when mutated one way or another, affects the signaling pathway. Ultimately, she mapped out the characteristics of one such gene, which she and her fellow researchers named Amun, after an ancient Egyptian god. (Shalaby minored in philosophy at the American University in Cairo, her hometown).
Her doctoral thesis was titled “Genetic and Molecular Investigations of Drosophila Notch Signaling.” She notes, “It only takes a few words to describe, yet 5-6 years to complete.”
Shalaby is now doing post-doctoral work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. Researchers there are conducting stem-cell research—focusing on the fruit fly.