Biology graduate student finds bone density difference in Down syndrome mouse modelsJared Thomas | Ph.D. candidate, Biology | Biology Department
Jared Thomas, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biology at IUPUI, has a lot to celebrate this year. He made a groundbreaking discovery relating to bone density and sexual dimorphism in mice with Down syndrome, and he successfully defended his master’s degree thesis (via Zoom) and published a journal article on the subject in April.
“Down syndrome is a triplication of chromosome 21, and this extra chromosome causes different phenotypes, phenotypes being diseased states like cognitive abnormalities, intellectual disabilities, and of course what we’re looking at, which is bone abnormalities,” explains Thomas.
Thomas is a graduate student researcher working with Randall Roper, Ph.D., a biology professor who specializes in Down syndrome research at the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI. The lab focuses research on bone density abnormalities that cause individuals with Down syndrome to be more susceptible to osteoporosis or bone fractures.
Thomas just recently started using a new mouse model for his research on bone density, which is what helped lead to the discovery of the differences in male and female mice. Mice with Down syndrome have triplication of part of mouse chromosome 16, corresponding to genes on human chromosome 21, creating phenotypes similar to what we see in humans. In the previous mouse models Thomas used, he was only able to look at bone density in male mice (as female mice were used solely for breeding). The National Institute of Health approved the study of new mouse models which allowed Thomas to look at both female and male mice.
This is the first time researchers had been able to compare differences between male and female mice, making Thomas a trailblazer in this area. He found that in mice with Down syndrome, males are more likely to have osteoporosis, which is opposite of what we know about the normal population of humans. He also discovered that male Down syndrome mice show bone deficits earlier and have more severe and persistent symptoms than female mice. His hope is that this research will lead to individuals with Down syndrome getting bone scans earlier, and health care professionals being more proactive about helping those individuals through some of the bone density challenges they’ll face.
“Sometimes as a researcher you get lost in the small details, and then when it all comes together and you can see the big picture, you realize you did all of this for a reason,” says Thomas. “It feels really good that my work is impacting the scientific community as well as the Down syndrome community.”
Thomas has been studying Down syndrome with Roper since he transferred from Ivy Tech Community College to IUPUI in 2016 to complete his bachelor’s degree in biotechnology.
“I enjoy working on Down syndrome research. I think it’s really interesting. There’s a lot of different diseased states that happen in Down syndrome that people don’t realize, like osteoporosis,” explains Thomas.
When Thomas started studying Down syndrome, the research group was looking at the benefits of green tea. At the time, green tea was thought to be one of the best therapies for the cognitive phenotypes affiliated with Down syndrome, so Thomas started looking at the effect green tea had on bone density. He found that certain green tea supplements actually can have a negative effect on bone density. He presented this research at the 2014 Annual Biomedical Research for Conference for Minority Students and earned a presentation award.
“I was prepared, I knew my research, and I contribute all of that to Dr. Roper. He really encouraged us to talk about our research, understand it and communicate it well, and to me, that’s half of science. One half is reading, writing, research and the other half is communication,” explains Thomas.
Thomas credits Roper for much of his success. He came to IUPUI as a non-traditional student; instead of enrolling in a college program right after high school, he worked for six years. He was nervous about the rigors of IUPUI but ultimately decided to earn his master’s degree and doctorate degree here because of the mentorship Roper provided to him as an undergraduate student.
“Dr. Roper has really been great about getting me out of my comfort zone, pushing me to network, pushing me to present at conferences, which has helped my confidence.”
Thomas will spend the next three years working on his doctorate degree. After completing his third degree at IUPUI, he hopes to continue doing bone research in the biomedical industry or at the National Institute of Health.