APPLETON, WIS. — A Lawrence University molecular biologist has been awarded a $25,000 grant by the Fulbright Scholar Program to conduct research at the Karolinska Institutet outside Stockholm, Sweden.

Elizabeth De Stasio, associate professor of biology and Raymond H. Herzog Professor in Science at Lawrence, conducts research on muscle function, deftly manipulating pieces of DNA in C. elegans — tiny worms about as long as the thickness of a dime. She will spend six months beginning next January investigating the role a protein called DAF-19 plays in regulating the function of various genes that in turn affect nerve function and maintenance.

The loss of connections between nerves — synapses — is believed to be a contributing factor in cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. De Stasio’s research at the Karolinska Institutet will focus on the effects of mutant DAF-19 on synaptic protein expression. The study will determine if C. elegans could be successfully used as a model system for studying Alzheimer’s disease-like decline.

“While a great deal has been learned from studying Alzheimer’s disease in humans, much of the evidence is necessarily correlative in nature,” said De Stasio, who conducted research in Uppsula, Sweden as a graduate student. “Only by also using model organisms for research can causation be determined fully.

“It was recently discovered that, just like human Alzheimer’s patients, DAF-19 mutant animals that reach advanced stages of adulthood also have strongly reduced levels of synaptic proteins. It remains to be seen whether these worms have problems similar to those of Alzheimer’s patients. One goal of my fellowship research will be to determine whether animals missing the DAF-19 protein have age-related defects in learning and memory relative to normal animals.”

A 1983 summa cum laude graduate of Lawrence, De Stasio has previously collaborated with 2002 Nobel Prize winner H. Robert Horvitz on research into the ways nerves and muscles communicate.

She joined the Lawrence biology department in 1992 under the auspices of a $700,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to establish the college’s first program in molecular biology. A recipient of Lawrence’s Outstanding Young Teacher award in 1996, she earned her Ph.D. from Brown University.

De Stasio was awarded her Fulbright Fellowship through the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), which administers the Fulbright Scholar Program for U.S. faculty and professionals. She was selected from research proposals submitted in disciplines ranging from the sciences to the fine arts.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Scholar Program provides grants for teaching and research positions in more than 120 countries worldwide. Fulbright grants are generally awarded for six-month periods.