Kaytie Innamorati ’14 conducts Alzheimer’s research

Kaytie Innamorati '14For Kaytie Innamorati ’14, completing research at Gettysburg was the entry point into her decision to pursue graduate school. After graduating with a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Innamorati went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Genetics at Drexel University’s College of Medicine.

As part of her lab work, Innamorati’s research focuses on using fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model for Alzheimer’s disease. She’s specifically analyzing the effect of novel molecular compounds in a particular model of Drosophila that has an overexpression of beta-secretase, which is an enzyme that is implicated in plaque formation—a hallmark of Alzheimer’s that may be responsible for abnormal rates of cell death and tissue loss. 

Innamorati said that in cases of Alzheimer's, a protein known as amyloid precursor protein (APP) is cleaved incorrectly. The normal pathway is for two enzymes to cleave APP sequentially: alpha secretase cuts first, then gamma secretase. This results in a protein product that functions normally in the cell; however, in Alzheimer’s, beta secretase cuts the protein first at a different location, followed by gamma secretase, causing amyloid-beta plaques to form.

“By upregulating beta secretase in fruit flies,” Innamorati said, “we essentially ensure that beta-secretase wins the race to cleave APP before alpha-secretase gets to it—causing more of these amyloid-beta plaques to form and subsequently for the fly to demonstrate an Alzheimer's phenotype. I can then test each of my drugs of interest on these flies and get a good idea of whether or not the drug is working on the model.”

Innamorati hopes this will lead to developments in how to treat and slow the progression of the disease.  It’s this—the direct application of her research on helping people—she finds to be the biggest reward.

“I felt a real draw to this project because it had so many real world applications and has the potential to make an impact in even the next two to three years,” she said.

Kaytie with Dr. LipsettInnamorati first became interested in the study of genetics in the lab at the side of Gettysburg chemistry Prof. Koren Lipsett, with whom she conducted research on the genetic link of deafness in a pedigree of Spanish Colonial Mustangs (horses). Innamorati also spent a summer completing research as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant.

“Completing research gave me an idea of what graduate school was like and the confidence to know I can do this,” said Innamorati. “I learned to ask questions, dive into the scientific literature, and think critically. I had the opportunity to work with and be inspired by amazing faculty and other students.  I also found mentors I’m still in contact with—they gave me the drive to do great work and just be the best scientist and best person I can be.”

Kaytie with biology Prof. Hiraizumi

One of those mentors is biology Associate Prof. Kazuo Hiraizumi.  

Kaytie in a cross country meet“Dr. Kazuo Hiraizumi in Biology was my ‘go-to’ if I needed words of wisdom or someone to talk to,” Innamorati said. “Much of his advice helped me gain the confidence to apply to graduate school and to succeed during my time at Gettysburg, for which I will be forever grateful.”

Innamorati said her four-years running on the Gettysburg cross-country team were also instrumental in her development.

“The team really helped shape who I am because they were brilliant girls—led by a wonderful coach [Aubrey Shenk]—and they helped inspire me to work hard and do well in my classes.”

In the lab

“It's hard to go back to Gettysburg because I get so homesick. Every time I visit it's like I'm coming home.” —Kaytie Innamorati '14

Like all Ph.D. candidates, Innamorati will eventually begin the process of pursuing a placement for her postdoctoral research.  Although she’s not sure where her current research will lead, Innamorati said she’d like to continue research that’s based in translational medicine.

“My big draw for graduate school was to pursue translational medicine because what you work on has so many real world applications and is directly relatable to patients,” she said. “In the future I know I want my work to have the potential to treat some kind of disease and impact people. That… that would be my bread and butter.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Carina Sitkus, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Mon, 28 Dec 2015

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