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Students earn national grants to research Parkinson’s Disease

Emily Ong ’17 and Paul Jones ’18 are the latest Lake Forest students to earn prestigious grants to conduct meaningful research this summer as undergraduate students.

Ong, a neuroscience major, won a $4,000 grant from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation to use this summer as she studies the relevance of amino acid charge in new familial mutants of alpha-synuclein proteins in the neurodegeneration disease.

Ong is one of 12 fellows selected for the funding out of nearly 40 medical, graduate, and undergraduate student applicants.

In her summer project, Ong is looking to see if loss of the original amino acid or if the replacement amino acid found in inherited forms of Parkinson’s Disease is causing the familiar nervous system movements associated with the disorder. “We’re trying to understand, at a basic level, when there’s a familial mutation what event is causing the pathology that we observe,” Ong said.

Eventually, Ong hopes to go to medical school, possibly specializing in neurology, pediatrics, or a combination of both, and believes her research experience in the lab at Lake Forest will help her achieve that goal and make her a better physician.

“It will be important, as a physician, to understand the science behind all the breakthroughs and all the research that goes on so that I can communicate that information to my patients,” she said.

As a Richter Summer Scholar after her freshman year, Ong worked in the psychology lab on a project studying violence against women. “Both of these opportunities were nice because I got to experience two different types of research—behavioral and molecular science,” Ong said.

She is the fifth Forester since 2003 to receive the prestigious grant, which has helped past recipients achieve the next step in their academic career: Isaac Holmes ’05, received his MD from Rush Medical College and is a physician in New York City; Lokesh Kukreja ’08, received his PhD from Northwestern University, where he is currently a postdoctoral fellow; Michael Fiske ’10 is pursuing PhD studies at Northwestern and received a National Institute of Health National Research Service Award; and Natalie Kukulka ’13, is pursuing MD studies at the University of Missouri.

Jones is the second Forester in two consecutive years to receive a Nu Rho Psi grant for his idea to test a new hypothesis for sporadic Parkinson’s Disease in yeast models. He has been invited to attend the 2016 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego to be formally recognized for this award and will present his work at the organization’s 2017 meeting in Washington, DC. In 2015, neuroscience major Alexandra Roman ’16 also received this grant to conduct her senior project.

“If this research is successful, it has very practical use for Parkinson’s and in ALS and Alzheimer’s research,” the neuroscience and chemistry major said. “This exemplifies what I want to do—practical, meaningful research that can affect people who have medical diseases. This is the first step toward that goal.” Both Jones and Roman were Richter Scholars and plan to pursue an MD/PhD and MD, respectively.