Jumana Alhaj Abed: 25, Biology
Jumana Alhaj Abed fell in love with molecular biology while working on her bachelorís degree in her home country, Jordan. She wanted to continue her studies in that field but there is little money in Jordan for research. Undaunted, she began scoping out schools in the United States where research was being conducted in her particular interest: the cellular mechanisms that turn genes on and off. SMUís Biology Department looked to be a good match and a Fulbright Scholarship made it possible.
Jumana came to Dallas in 2008 as part of a masterís program, but has since expanded her efforts to a PhD program, which she expects to complete in 2014.
The research that brought SMU to Jumanaís attention when she was looking for graduate schools is the developmental genetics work conducted in the lab of Professor Richard Jones. Since all cells in the body contain a complete complement of genes, there have to be mechanisms that cause one group of cells to turn into an eye and another group of cells to turn into a lung. Jumanaís work is helping to advance the worldís understanding of how that developmental differentiation in the embryo occurs.
More specifically, she is studying Polycomb-group (PcG) genes in that classical laboratory creature Drosophila, or the fruit fly. Individual genes all carry the code for a unique protein, and the proteins produced by PcG genes are known to be involved in repressing other genes. Jumana is using a lab technique known as chromatin immunopreciptation (ChIP) to look at how the PcG genes and their product proteins act to suppress another gene in Drosophila.
The knowledge Jumana will cull from her work isnít just abstract. Medical scientists know that PcG proteins are found at unusually high levels in severe human cancers. Pharmaceutical companies may be able to use Jumanaís results as a springboard to develop new and better treatments for some of the most intractable human cancers.