Melissa Rolls honored as Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

June 17, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Melissa Rolls, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in Penn State's Eberly College of Science, has been selected as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a national philanthropy based in Philadelphia. The Pew Scholar awards are granted to junior faculty members at medical schools and research institutions across the United States to encourage research innovation and collaboration in biomedical fields. Since its founding in 1985, the Pew Charitable Trusts has funded over 460 scholars whose scientific discoveries have led to advances in the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases and disabilities.

Rolls studies the cell biology behind neuronal signaling. She uses the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to study how proteins are sent and are located at different places in neurons. By using Drosophila, she can apply powerful genetic and live-imaging techniques to better understand how neurons are organized and to identify causes of neurodegenerative diseases.

Neurons receive information from the outside world, process it, store it, and send signals to output cells, such as muscle cells. Each of the three major parts of a neuron has a specialized function: dendrites receive signals, axons send them, and the cell body performs many of the cellular support functions. One major challenge a neuron faces is to transfer newly made proteins and membranes from the cell body to the distant regions of axons and dendrites where they function. In particular, Rolls focuses on how microtubules, the tracks for long-range transport in neurons, are organized within axons and dendrites, and how their organization contributes to polarized transport. Disruptions in microtubule-based transport frequently result in neurodegeneration, indicating how important it is for these long cells to send proteins to the right places. For example, mutations in a microtubule's motor-regulatory subunit, dynactin, can lead to degeneration of the motor neuron.

Rolls previously has been honored with an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant in 2008, a March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Award in 2008, a Young Investigator Award from the Mental Health Research Association in 2006, an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2006, and a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2003.

Rolls was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon, from 2001 to 2007. She earned a doctorate in biological and biomedical sciences at Harvard University in 2001 and a bachelor's degree in biology at Yale University in 1995. Since joining Penn State in February 2007 as an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, she has founded the Center for Cellular Dynamics within the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

  • Melissa Rolls, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in Eberly College of Science at Penn State

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 09, 2015