A Summer of Science: CNDR trains the next generation

This week marks the start of the unofficial end of summer as Philadelphia School District  and many college and university students make their way back to the classroom. While some spent the past three months relaxing at the beach (or on their couch!), some spent their time conducting research at the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Each year, CNDR welcomes students from high school level through college to participate in their summer student internship program. Students work hands-on in the lab under the leadership of a mentor to learn the ins and outs of basic research, from general lab safety to assisting with real-life experiments studying different aspects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

One of the main goals of this program is to inspire students to pursue a career in science and help them to explore the many different fields and opportunities that there are in medicine and research.

“Working at CNDR has most definitely solidified and assured me that I truly do have a passion for medicine,” said Alex Kats, a rising junior at George Washington University and first time intern at CNDR. “Each individual in the lab brings something different to the table which really creates an incredible work dynamic and environment to be a part of. I could not be more thankful to have spent the last three months surrounded by this group and really feel as though they have helped me grow as a person.”


IMG_0054Alex Kats
Junior, George Washington University
First time Intern at CNDR

Future Career Goals:
“I am hoping to eventually pursue a career in medicine and am currently getting ready to take my MCAT this coming spring. In an ideal world, I see myself in a critical surgical field such as neurosurgery or transplant surgery.”

How has CNDR influenced your career goals?
“Working at CNDR has most definitely solidified and assured me that I truly do have a passion for medicine. Even though I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl, being on the forefront of such important research has really shown me how much of a difference one lab can make in this world.”

Summer project:
“During my summer, I worked on studying various Tauopathies and understanding the spread of glial cell pathology. My project specifically focused on better understanding the pathway of tau aggregates present in oligodendrocytes and astrocytes in CBD and PSP. We compared three month and six month data from specially bred Cre-Flox injected mice in order to explore parts of the brain in which pathology is present along with the kind of spread we can eventually expect to see.”

IMG_0050Andrew Shults
Senior, Grinnell College
First time intern at CNDR

How has CNDR influenced your career goals?
“Working at the CNDR, I got to learn about the ins and out of what being in a lab environment was like. While my plans for the future are still unclear, my experience at the CNDR was very impactful and will be useful in deciding a career.”

Summer Project:
“Currently, Lewy Body pathology is seen as a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. However, LRRK2 mutated Parkinson’s disease is indistinguishable from normal Parkinson’s, but several cases were found where Lewy Body pathology is nonexistent. Therefore, my project this summer was to test if Ubqulin 2, which is normally involved in protein degradation, could be the link that ties LRRK2 Parkinson’s and normal Parkinson’s.”

Advice for those interested in interning at CNDR:
“I would 100% recommend students to work at the CNDR over the summer. It was a great experience for me and one that I am happy I took. In terms of advice, I would tell future students to take advantage of all that the CNDR and Penn Medicine has to offer. Aside from working in the lab, I was able to stand in on several autopsies and shadow Dr. Coughlin, a Neurologist, all without leaving the Penn Medicine system, which were opportunities I was not expecting and something I would not have been able to do at many other places.”

IMG_0037Erik Ammermann
Senior, Penn State University
Second year summer intern at CNDR

How has CNDR influenced your career goals?
“Working at CNDR has shown me that I want to be able to apply my undergraduate studies to biomedically relevant topics. I am hoping to pursue a future career in a field where my chemical engineering degree intersects with drug discovery and development. Additionally, these past two summers [working at CNDR] have reaffirmed my desire to do research, and I am hopeful to attend graduate school for my PhD.”

Summer Project:
“Over the past two summers in drug discovery, I worked on projects related to both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. I have helped in developing a primary neuron assay to screen small molecule drugs, as well as an ELISA to biochemically confirm compounds that showed activity in inhibiting disease progression.”

“For patients and families affected by the diseases being studied at CNDR, treatment options can be few and far between. The researchers at CNDR are on the frontlines of discovering new therapies and learning more about these diseases, and I would like to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to take part in this work and learn as much as I have.” – Erik Ammermann

Erik Ammermann, Alex Kats, and Andrew Shults; CNDR Summer Student Interns


Ian McGeary
Post-baccalaureate Program, University of Pennsylvania
CNDR intern since October 2017

How has CNDR influenced your career goals?
“Through patience, and proper practice, working alongside the other researchers here, I have been able to become a better scientist, and have gained a greater appreciation for the intricacies of the human mind, and the nature of these neurodegenerative diseases that impact so many people’s lives.”

What is something new that you learned while working at CNDR?
“How beneficial it is to collaborate with other researchers in the lab. Whether it is troubleshooting a procedural error or hypothesizing a specific mechanism of action, so many people here are able to provide different areas of expertise, which I was able to utilize to allow me to go way further in my research than I could have on my own.”

Summer Project:
“I was a research assistant to Michael Henderson, a Post-Doc here, examining the roles GBA1 and LRRK2 have on a-synuclein pathogenesis. Most of the work I do involves culturing primary neurons and examining the relationship between differing activity levels of the proteins derived from these genes and monomeric and fibrillar a-synuclein.”

Would you recommend a summer internship at CNDR to other students interested in the science field?
“Absolutely. For those that have the scientific background, it is an incredible opportunity to take much of the knowledge gained in the classroom and apply it to conducting research on projects here with a lot of independence.”

IMG_0070Christopher Kim
Sophomore, New York University
Third year CNDR Intern

Future Career Goals:
“I am hoping to pursue a career in science. I hope to go to medical school and become a physician.”

Summer Project:
“For this summer, I worked on looking at selective vulnerable cell types of Alzheimer’s Disease in a sporadic tauopathy mouse model. I also worked on immunohistochemistry techniques and western blots.”

Would you recommend a summer internship at CNDR to other students interested in the science field?
“I would definitely recommend this internship to other students. One piece of advice I would give would be to take advantage and learn as much as you can from CNDR. This lab has so much to offer.”

“CNDR will always be a special place for me because it is always a great experience whenever I work there and there is always more to learn while you are there even for a short time.” – Christopher Kim

To learn more about CNDR and their work as well as training and funding opportunities, visit: http://www.med.upenn.edu/cndr



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