Yoan Ganev ’19 - Innovative Causal Research on Parkinson’s Disease
Yoan is a double major in neuroscience and biochemistry and molecular biology. He began working in Dr. DebBurman’s lab as a freshman under the Richter Scholar Program, and has been working on Parkinson’s research ever since.
Yoan’s interests include sciences, specifically chemistry and molecular biology. He also likes classical music and enjoys playing the piano in his spare time. Yoan is planning to attend medical school after graduation and has already taken the MCAT.
“Just the fact that knowing every new day can bring something different. If your reactions didn’t work one day, then it’s all the motivation for you to go and do them the next day.”
Yoan Ganev began working in Dr. DebBurman’s lab as a freshman under the Richter Scholar Program, and has been working on Parkinson’s research since. Yoan is researching the protein that causes Parkinson’s, and this was made possible through the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation/APDA Summer Research Grant. In November 2018, Yoan will be presenting his research at the Society For Neuroscience (SFN) Conference in San Diego.
What research will you be presenting at the SFN Conference in San Diego?
The project that I am working on looks at chemical modifications of the protein that causes Parkinson’s disease. After there are certain proteins in the cell, there are certain chemical groups that become attached to that protein. Since these groups interact directly with the protein, they change its structure, thereby changing the functions and activities in the cell. So we want to see whether these modifications are good or bad, do they contribute to the phenotypes of Parkinson’s disease or do they help protect it. We test these effects on yeast cells, because as you know we can’t test any of this on humans.
What motivated you to apply for the grant and to participate in the SFN Conference?
Well, I know that every lab needs money, and I know that since our lab is a Parkinson’s research lab, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation is the go-to place for that. So I talked about it with Dr.D and he said I should go for it, so I did. For my research presentation, I will be presenting to 40,000 neuroscientists which I think is really cool.
How have you reframed any failure that you’ve encountered throughout your research process?
Basically, every time something doesn’t work you just say either we’ll do it again or we’ll just go down a different line of research. I’ve had projects in lab that haven’t led anywhere, and so has everyone else. And it’s not just in our lab, it’s every lab, you know, it’s the nature of research. Just the fact that knowing every new day can bring something different, if your reactions didn’t work one day then it’s all the motivation for you to go and do them the next day.
Have you received any significant help whilst working on this research?
Definitely. Everyone in lab helps each other. It would be absolutely impossible if we were all just to work on our own thing. In most labs, the more senior members train the younger members and they act as your mentor. After you go through about a year of training, then you start to become the mentor and you help others. I’ve done both, I’ve been trained and I’ve also trained students.
What has that mentorship process been like for you?
First of all, gaining really good friends. Second, learning exactly how to do the procedures because when you’re working by yourself you take mental shortcuts. It really draws out the process for you and everything starts to make more sense.
Did you find it difficult to ask for help from other students?
No, everyone is very willing to offer you help. Usually, if someone sees that you’re doing something and you don’t seem to know what you’re doing, they will ask if you need help. There are also procedures that you have to do with somebody who’s experienced because we work with some things that are extremely expensive.
What resources do you still need before you present your research?
Just more data. My poster is already in the draft version, there are just a few things I have to add to it. I also have to do some experiments again because replications make sure that the research is consistent.
How are you preparing for this presentation?
Making sure the poster is well formatted. Of course when it gets closer I’ll start practicing it. I’ll definitely practice with Dr. D, and I will probably practice it with other people from lab, and see if I can get my parents to listen to it although that’s probably not going to happen.
Entrepreneurs are considered as those who identify a need and fill it. Do you consider yourself as an Entrepreneur?
That’s a tough question. I would say that there is a lot of entrepreneurship in research in general, because you have to synthesize that research, identify what needs to be done, and what’s the best way to do it. So that’s definitely the entrepreneurship part of it, you’re leading your own ideas, proposing something new, starting it, and making sure that it goes to completion. That’s one part. The other part is that you can’t go by the business model because business is individualistic, whereas with lab work it’s really a team effort.
Ultimately, where do you see this research taking you?
Just towards the end of my senior thesis and afterwards I want to go to medical school.
What has the entire experience been for you in terms of starting this research and having it finally culminate into a national presentation and senior thesis?
It’s been awesome and the project has evolved a lot. I started out with my mentor in a very related project, then we took it in an entirely different direction. It was very exciting because we didn’t know what we would find. We had hypotheses based on just a few papers because this research is very new, and I’m actually happy to say that some of the hypotheses are being confirmed.