Doug Bittel, MSc, PhD
Research interests: Alternative splicing (AS) of mRNA
Alternative splicing (AS) of mRNA plays an important role in vertebrate development and pathogenesis. However, the mechanisms that regulate AS are poorly understood. Our studies of gene processing in heart tissue from babies with congenital heart defects suggests that scaRNAs may contribute to their heart defect. Our observations, using human cell cultures clearly show that altering the expression level of small cajal body associated noncoding RNAs (scaRNAs) alters mRNA splicing. Furthermore, using zebrafish and quail embryos, we have shown that altering scaRNA expression levels in the embryo alters mRNA splicing and embryonic development.
We hypothesize that scaRNAs play an important role in regulating development and when they are dysregulated, they contribute to developmental pathology. This is a new paradigm in developmental regulation; therefore, it is critical that we develop a better understanding of the role that scaRNAs play in alternative splicing of mRNA and development.
We are also collaborating with biotech company, Likarda, in developing a stem cell based cure for Type 1 diabetes. In phase 1, Likarda is inducing pluripotent stem cells to differentiate into insulin producing cells. They will transplant these cells into companion animals. Our role is to evaluate multiple biomarkers as the cells differentiate to ensure that the process is proceeding as expected. Their business model is to do clinical trials in companion animals to demonstrate proof of concept prior to adapting the process for human application.