Dr. Heather Ballance, is excited to be working in the lab of Dr. Bokai Zhu at the Aging Institute. She joined at the lab’s opening and is inspired by the momentum and growth of the lab over the past two years. As a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, her doctoral work focused on circadian rhythms. She characterized the 24-hour rhythmic expression of genes, including RNA-binding proteins, prion proteins, and other proteins that are prone to aggregation. Additionally, she characterized rhythms in the protein chaperones that prevent aggregation, and is curious about the interaction between the rhythms of aggregation-prone molecules and the rhythms of their chaperones. Dr. Ballance held her first post-doctoral position at Boston University, where she studied the role of aggregation-prone RNA-binding proteins such as TDP-43 and Tau in neurodegenerative conditions associated with aging, such as frontotemporal lobar degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.
Given her interests in circadian rhythms and RNA-binding proteins, she was excited to find a position in Dr. Zhu’s lab, which contains the best of both worlds. Her current projects include the 12-hour rhythms of RNA-binding proteins in nuclear speckles, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein content, and cell-to-cell communication through protein secretion. Dr. Ballance is supported by the T32 training program in the Division of Geriatrics, Department of Medicine, and she is eager to move her projects on 12-hour rhythms from basic science into translational work on aging.
When Dr. Ballance is not in the lab, she can be found hiking in one of Pittsburgh’s many parks or just enjoying the flowers at local gardens. She also enjoys theater and evenings out with family and friends.