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A USC-centric crowdfunding platform will help USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology fourth-year PhD candidate Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto get funding for her cutting-edge aging research.

Pomatto, who is completing her degree in the Biology of Aging program, studies how an organism’s ability to withstand and adapt to various kinds of oxidative stress—from ultraviolet radiation and pollution to byproducts of normal metabolism—decreases with age. Her proposed project will provide valuable insight into understanding the genes and pathways that change with age when an organism is no longer able to adapt to such stress using flies as an animal model, she says.

“My research relies upon the widely used model organism Drosophila melanogaster, more commonly known as the fruit fly,” Pomatto says on her Ignite proposal page. “Loss of our ability to adapt to oxidative stress may accelerate the aging process and contribute to various age-related diseases. Fortunately, many of the same cellular defense pathways found in humans have been identified in fruit flies, making it an exceptional candidate to explore the changes in adaptation during the lifespan. As we cannot study humans from birth until death, fruit flies provide a great alternative, especially as they live only .0003% the length of humans!”

Much like popular funding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the USC Ignite website allows individuals to contribute any amount of money they wish to projects that they find promising or interesting. Depending on the amount donated, the donor can become eligible for perks ranging from postcards and other paraphernalia to unique experiences and sneak previews of finished materials. The perks for Pomatto’s donors range from postcards and tote bags with the project’s cartoon “Superfly” mascot to laboratory tours, acknowledgement in a scholarly publication about the research, and early access to exciting research results.

Pomatto is aiming to obtain $5,500 prior to December 1, 2015; the funds will purchase the experimental flies and other materials for the project. She says she hopes that aging’s universal impact will help her project have a unique appeal for the crowdfunding campaign.

“We all experience aging, from conception until death, yet we are just beginning to understand why we age,” she says.

Pomatto has achieved various awards and fellowships throughout her graduate tenure, including the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the USC Provost Graduate Fellowship. A 2011 graduate of USC, she obtained bachelor’s degrees in both biomedical engineering and gerontology, was a Presidential Scholar, and also completed a progressive master’s degree in medical device and diagnostic engineering in the USC Biomedical Engineering Department in 2012. Her coinvestigators on the project are junior in biomedical engineering Elisabeth Hopkins and sophomore in human development and aging Sarah Wong.

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