About Student Research

Keenan S. Pearson (2019–present)

In vitro selection of novel DNAs for regenerative medicine

Keenan Pearson is a Minnesota native with a strong background in chemistry and molecular biology from Bethel University in St. Paul. He gained insight into industrial and commercial careers in biotechnology during and after college. In the Maher lab, Keenan is building on his fascination with the power of in vitro combinatorial nucleic acid selection to identify novel "aptamers" (folded nucleic acid sequences) that have functions beyond our current ability to design.

Just as the human immune system exploits random cassettes encoding protein surfaces to create stored antibody libraries that are selected and optimized during an adaptive immune response, libraries approaching 100 trillion random folded DNAs or RNAs can be produced in the test tube as raw material for selecting new functions.

Keenan's challenges focus on in vitro selections for DNAs capable of recognizing unique features on the surface of intact motor neuron cells. The loss of such cells lies at the heart of untreatable degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). DNA aptamers and conjugates that target these cell surface features create libraries of reagents that can be screened for the ability to trigger either cell survival or regenerative responses, or both. Such tools could have application in regenerative therapies for disorders such as ALS.