Michael Hart ’17 studies Alzheimer’s disease as John C. Young Scholar
For senior Michael Hart, conducting research is one of the most gratifying experiences, and for his John C. Young (JCY) project, he was able to conduct his own on Alzheimer’s disease.
Hart began his study on the topic his sophomore year, collaborating with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kerry Paumi on research that looked at a way of inhibiting one of the major factors and the progression of Alzheimer’s. Hart’s research was funded last summer by the Limbach Summer Research Fellowship, which honors alumnus Pat Limbach and supports faculty-student collaborative research.
For his JCY project, he decided to continue the research he started with Paumi and create his own.
“Michael has already served as my research associate for almost a year and a half, and I was confident in his ability to pursue this new line of research,” Paumi said. “His drive and meticulous attention to detail in the lab is extraordinary and it has been an honor to work with him.”
Instead of synthesizing molecules, he used antibodies that are natural inhibiting molecules to inhibit the major player in Alzheimer’s.
“My project was inspired by research I had already done with my professor. So, during my junior year, I started thinking about a study I could do, and that is how I came up with the antibody idea,” he said.
In his research, Hart looked at two different antibodies and how they bind to Amyloid-beta to prevent it from aggregating or clumping together causing cell death within the brain.
During the course of his project, he had two goals in mind. The first, to see if one of the antibodies is more effective than the other, and the second, to determine if the aggregation or the clumping of the Amyloid-beta could be detected for both of the antibodies.
“My thought process is that for one of the antibodies, where it binds, it will prevent us from being able to see any inhibition of aggregation, whereas the other antibody will still allow for us to detect inhibition of aggregation,” he explained.
When Hart was younger, his grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which he says inspired this type of research. His work with Paumi also led him to discover the idea for his own project.
“Being able to do research I came up with is really important to me,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve completed a study on one of my own projects and felt really connected to it.”
Paumi explained how as a mentor, it was her job to ask critical questions of the research and help guide him, but determining the answer and the experiments to find the answers were entirely Hart’s design and work.
Throughout Hart’s project, he learned that, in science, you can never truly know exactly what’s going to come out of it before you go into it, and your hypothesis is a calculated guess.
Even though my results showed the opposite of what I expected, this was still a gratifying experience.
After graduation, Hart will be pursuing a graduate degree in pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania.
by Kerry Steinhofer
May 15, 2017