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Science & Tech

Graduate Student Invents Gene Regulator

ay_Tara Deans.jpg

Tara Deans (ENG’08) ignored the outside world for years, she says, concentrating on conducting laboratory research. Her dedication has paid off. The doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering is one of 11 finalists in the Collegiate Inventors Competition as a result of her work in engineering a genetic switch that regulates gene expression.

“What’s novel about the switch is that it can turn a gene’s expression off and on,” Deans says. “And you can also tune the expression of the gene.”

According to the competition Web site, Deans’ switch can be used to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Understanding these mechanisms could lead to better treatments.

Deans entered the competition to connect with other scientists. “I felt like it was time to get myself out there,” she says. The competition, run by the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation, recognizes and rewards innovations, discoveries, and research by undergraduate and graduate students and their advisors. Deans’ advisor is James J. Collins, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, who is a MacArthur fellow and the 2000 winner of BU’s Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

The finalists are presenting their work, which will be judged based on the originality of the idea, process, or technology, as well as its potential value to society, by a panel of scientists, medical professionals, and specialists in invention, this week at the California Institute of Technology. On November 1, the judges will award the $25,000 grand prize to an individual or to a team, and one undergraduate and one graduate student or team each will receive a $15,000 prize.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.