The Rita Allen Foundation, an organization in Princeton, New Jersey, that sponsors promising early-career scientists, awarded the scholarship to seven biomedical researchers across the United States who show creativity and resilience in their investigations into confounding scientific and medical problems. The award includes a grant of up to $110,000 annually for up to five years to help foster breakthrough solutions to these issues.
Hatch was selected for her exploration of the nuclear envelope, a structure that separates the chromatin found in the nucleus from the cytoplasm of the cell, as well as her research regarding the causes and consequences associated with the rupture and repair of this organelle.
While the nuclear envelope is often regarded as a static structure, simply existing to aid in cell compartmentalization, recent developments have indicated that breakages and ruptures in the barrier have the potential to cause cancer and other human diseases.
Hatch has also extensively investigated nuclear envelope rupture in micronuclei, small nuclei that develop when chromosomes are mis-segregated and form their own, independent nuclear envelopes following cell division. These new, smaller nuclei form at a relatively efficient rate in cancer cells when compared to healthy tissues, raising the question: Why might ruptures in the nuclear membrane affect the development of certain cancers?
Studying micronuclei in cancer cells, Hatch and her team observed that the nuclear envelope of these micronuclei tend to undergo significant rupture during interphase, the rest stage of cell division, and is surprisingly rarely repaired, resulting in fragments of genetic material floating around in the cytoplasm. Simultaneously, other cellular components, including other large organelles, are able to drift in through the ruptured micronuclei, thus having the potential to significantly damage genetic contents of the cell.
This inability for the body to efficiently repair the ruptured micronuclei and recover this now-cytoplasmic genetic material can lead to DNA damage, which can result in chromosome reshuffling and aneuploidy, a condition in which a cell contains an abnormal number of chromosomes. All three of these alterations may prompt the development of various cancers.
Hatch is currently continuing her research on micronuclei and nuclear-envelope rupture and repair, hoping to better understand why ruptured nuclear envelopes are often left unrepaired in micronuclei, and how these events correlate with cancer and other human diseases. Furthermore, Hatch and her lab are researching what factors contribute to both membrane stability and repair following rupture.
Hatch has also developed and utilized cutting-edge tools that assist in understanding how membrane rupture can affect living cells and the human body. Her lab already employs live-cell imaging and light microscopy to witness the rupture events in high detail and in real time, videos of which can be viewed on her lab page.
Hatch is the fourth member of Fred Hutch to be named a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar. Past Hutch recipients of the scholarship include the late Dr. Hal Weintraub, Dr. Bruce Edgar (now with the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah) and Dr. Adrian Ferré-D’Amaré (now with the Intramural Research Program at the National Institutes of Health).
Previous Rita Allen Foundation Scholars have continued on to discover breakthroughs in their respective fields of research, some of which have been recognized with high-profile awards, such as the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
Science writing intern Colin Petersdorf is a junior at the University of Southern California, where he is majoring in biological sciences and minoring in screenwriting. Tweet him @colinpetersdorf to talk medicine, baseball, Star Wars or anything in between.