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Elba Serrano


B. A. (Physics , minor Chemistry), University of Rochester
Ph.D. (Biological Sciences), Stanford University
Regents Professor and RISE Program Director, NMSU

Serrano Lab website

Elba Serrano received her B.A in Physics from the University of Rochester, where she began her scientific journey as an undergraduate researcher under the guidance of Edwin Carstensen, currently Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering. She completed her PhD at Stanford University with Peter Getting and trained as a postdoctoral researcher with Bruce Ransom at Stanford Medical School and Susumu Hagiwara (deceased) at UCLA School of Medicine. She joined the faculty at NMSU in fall of 1991. Serrano’s biomedical research is supported by NIH and focuses on neural regeneration, sensory disorders of hearing and balance and the development of biological applications for quantum dot nanocrystals. She is an advocate of interdisciplinary research and education and she collaborates with scientists and engineers at LANL, Harvard University, and Southwest Sciences, Inc., as well as with engineers, physicists, and philosophers on the NMSU campus. Serrano serves as a member of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnology Users Executive Committee, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Health Sciences Advisory Council, the Steering Committee of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the Government Relations Committee of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, as well as numerous NSF and NIH review panels. Serrano’s honors include a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a AAAS Lectureship in Women in Science and Engineering, and an NMSU Roush Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has a special interest in programs that encourage students to pursue advanced degrees in STEM disciplines, in particular the achievement of a doctorate. In this capacity she serves as Director of the NMSU NIH RISE Program that supports student research training for doctoral degrees. In January of 2009, Serrano was named an NMSU Regents Professor. Serrano lives with her family in Las Cruces, NM.

Research: Mechanoreception Organ Systems for the Senses of Hearing and Balance
Neuroscientists have long appreciated the exquisite membranous labyrinth of the inner ear because it is a marvel of natural engineering. Pressure reception, signal processing, and frequency discrimination are achieved by structural (biopolymers) and functional (transduction channels) features of the inner ear’s remarkable mechanosensory hair cells as well as its tridimensional organization and biomaterial composition. However, the underlying mechanisms that give rise to this complex mechanoreceptor structure with its uniquely patterned auditory and vestibular endorgans are not well understood. This organ system has intrigued our laboratory for over a dozen years as we have endeavored to understand the anatomical, genetic, and physiological events that define the emergence of the adult Xenopus inner ear from its origins as an otic vesicle in embryonic specimens. The biomedical urgency of our research is underscored by the increasing number of persons afflicted with disorders of hearing and balance due to heredity, noise pollution, aging, developmental anomalies, and exposure to chemical agents such as antineoplastic drugs and antibiotics. Xenopus is an attractive organism for investigations of auditory and vestibular disorders because unlike Homo sapiens, Xenopus can regenerate and replace sensory cells in response to damage. Furthermore, the sequencing of the Xenopus tropicalis genome and the development of methods that facilitate Xenopus trangenesis have enhanced the utility of Xenopus for genetics research.

Our laboratory has been especially interested in the development and sensorineural patterning of the eight endorgans of the inner ear from embryonic through adult life. However, the small size and inaccessibility of the sensory epithelia of the inner ear pose challenges for biochemical investigations and tissue manipulation. Consequently we have faced many technical barriers, and we gradually have developed numerous strategies to circumvent methodological impediments. We use a broad range of methods, including molecular biology, histology, informatics, biophotonics, tissue culture, and electrophysiology. Our studies of the elaborate structural organization of the inner ear have been furthered by integration of data acquired with different bioimaging techniques (SEM, TEM, brightfield, epifluorescence confocal, multiphoton, optical coherence tomography). Because of our interest in hair cell signal transduction, we have cloned inner ear genes such as those for ion channels, and have established heterologous gene expression systems to further genetic analysis. These investigations are undertaken with the ultimate hope of contributing to the design of therapies and interventions that can assuage what is presently a global epidemic in hearing loss. More information about the NMSU lab can be accessed at: http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/serrano/neurolab/neurolab.html

Research in the CDP Center: Organ Decision Processes
The long term goal of our CDP subproject is to uncover and model networks and processes that underlie life and death decisions in vestibular and auditory organs of the inner ear. We have a special interest in using systems approaches to identify molecular targets for chemical agents that can stimulate inner ear regeneration or destroy inner ear cells (e.g. antibiotics and antineoplastic agents). In collaboration with the Sorger lab, we are expanding the queriable Encyclopedia of Molecular Targets (EMoT) database to include the effects of therapeutic drugs on organ systems (inner ear, kidney, brain). In parallel, we are developing cell and organ culture systems to test predictions that arise from EMoT queries regarding the potential effects of therapeutic drugs on molecular targets in sensory hair cells and supporting cells of the inner ear.

Outreach in the CDP Center
The outreach activities of the CDP Center offer a novel strategy for training the nation’s biomedical workforce and for increasing the representation of women and underrepresented minority persons in systems biology research. Serrano participates in CDP efforts to provide professional development opportunities for students and postdoctoral researchers in the CDP Center. She also facilitates collaborative research and training opportunities that unite students and postdoctoral researchers in the CDP Center with the SACNAS (http://www.sacnas.org/) , ABRCMS (http://www.abrcms.org/index.html) and NIGMS NMSU RISE Program (http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/nmsurise/index.html) communities.

Selected CDP Publications
Powers T.R., S.M. Virk, C. Trujillo-Provencio, and E.E. Serrano (2012). Probing the Xenopus laevis Inner Ear Transcriptome for Biological Function. BMC Genomics. 13(1):225.

Ramírez-Gordillo D., C. Trujillo-Provencio, V.B. Knight, and E.E. Serrano (2011). Comparison of three gene delivery methods in chinese hamster ovary (CHO) and Xenopus laevis kidney (A6) Cells. In vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. 47: 640-652.

Powers T., S. Virk, and E.E.Serrano (2010). Strategies for enhanced annotation of a microarray probe set. International Journal of Bioinformatics Research and Applications 6(2):163-78.

Trujillo-Provencio, C., Sultemeier, D., Powers T., and E.E.Serrano (2009). RNA isolation from Xenopus inner ear sensory endorgans for transcriptional profiling and molecular cloning. Methods in Mol Biol. 428: 3-20.

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This page last modified on June 19th, 2012