Undergraduates Research Rett Syndrome to Raise Awareness, Improve Patient Care

From left: Izabella Nill Gomez, Taryn Lester and Ashlee Tannehill

Three undergraduate students at UT are researching Rett syndrome, a progressive neurological disorder that afflicts one in 10,000 females. They want to raise awareness about the disorder and hope their discoveries translate into improved care for patients.

Izabella Nill Gomez, Taryn Lester, and Ashlee Tannehill are working in the lab of Keerthi Krishnan, assistant professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology.

They are among more than 1,400 UT undergraduates involved in research. Between 2015 and 2016 the number of UT undergraduates doing research more than doubled and the number of faculty mentors increased 87 percent.

Rett syndrome is an autism-associated disorder that primarily affects girls and women. It is not inherited but results from a random, spontaneous gene mutation. It leads to several impairments that impact nearly every aspect of life, including the ability to speak, walk, eat, and breathe easily

“Before I started in Dr. Krishnan’s lab, I didn’t know what Rett syndrome was,” said Tannehill, a sophomore from Nashville who is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in psychology. “We’re just trying to find out more about the disease and why it occurs, and see how our research can be translated into care for the patient.”

Gomez, a junior from Brazil who is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in psychology, said they are comparing the brain circuitry of mice that have the Rett syndrome mutation and those without.

“We analyzed fine motor skills behavior in mice. We’re trying to see if there is a difference,” she said.

Visible effects of Rett syndrome include repetitive hand movements, motor impairments, and regression in speech and social communication.

In addition to their research, Tannehill, Gomez, and Lester, a sophomore from Trenton, Tennessee, who is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in psychology, will participate in a strollathon—an event similar to a 5K— in Athens, Tennessee, in September to increase awareness about Rett syndrome and raise money for organizations that research the condition. Learn more about the strollathon online.

CONTACT:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)