Month: January 2019

Brain Squall (not a storm)

Brain Squall (not a storm)

Reflection Blog #2

While I am primarily interested in developments in the field of oncology, I think I would like to take this opportunity to investigate biochemical pathways that have biological impacts other than malignancies. I have a particular interest in neurodegenerative disorders and those that affect the brain (my brain says no bias). I am also interested in the immune system, and what happens when the body’s defenses work against itself, as well as how an understanding of these processes can help scientist develop a wide range of treatments. Here are some of the diseases I have found intriguing:

1. Immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy: IgA nephropathy affects the kidneys by attacking the glomeruli which are sets of looping blood vessels in the nephrons the tiny functional units of the kidneys that filter wastes and remove extra fluid from the blood. The buildup of IgA deposits inflames and damages the glomeruli, causing the kidneys to leak blood and protein into the urine.1

2. Romano-Ward Syndrome: In people with long QT syndrome, the part of the heartbeat known as the QT interval is abnormally long. This causes abnormalities in the time it takes to recharge the heart and can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. It is characterized by syncopal episodes and other electrocardiographic abnormalities and may result from mutations encoding subunits of the cardiac ion channels. 2

3. Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) is a condition that affects many of the body’s systems, particularly the brain, nervous system ,and muscles. This disorder is accompanied by symptoms that indicate central nervous system involvement including seizures, hemiparesis, hemianopsia, cortical blindness, and episodic vomiting. It is also caused be a series of genetic mutations and can lead to neurodegeneration.3


(1)       IgA Nephropathy | NIDDK (accessed Jan 30, 2019).

(2)       Reference, G. H. Romano-Ward syndrome (accessed Jan 30, 2019).

(3)       Montagna, P.; Gallassi, R.; Medori, R.; Govoni, E.; Zeviani, M.; Di Mauro, S.; Lugaresi, E.; Andermann, F. MELAS Syndrome: Characteristic Migrainous and Epileptic Features and Maternal Transmission. Neurology 1988, 38 (5), 751–754.

Reflection Blog #1

Reflection Blog #1

Why Biochemistry?

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” -Neil Degrasse Tyson

I cannot ask myself the question, “why biochemistry,” without questioning my very existence. Biochemistry entered my life languidly; elementary science and math classes were my favorite subjects because the answers were always achievable. Gradually, I realized that the answers are not always apparent, and that I had many questions regarding the processes of the observable world. On a smaller scale, science allows humans to craft answers to “how?” or “why?” Those who are outside the realm of STEM, may assert that science demystifies nature by offering solutions to these questions, yet every day I am in awe of the elegance and grandeur of nature.

Biochemistry is so much more just a combination of Biology and Chemistry, it is the chemistry of biological mechanisms and interactions. This field has applications in medicine, drug development, and environmental studies. It is an integral part of food science, where biochemists study chemical composition, research ways to develop reasonable sources of nutrition, and develop methods to extract nutrients from waste products. Biochemistry is an important part of agriculture pertaining to the interaction of herbicides and insecticides with plants or pests.1 Ultimately, studying biochemistry is about understanding living systems and their functions in order to harness molecules, enzymes, genetic material, and their interactions to make the world a better place (hopefully).

I hope to use my knowledge of biochemical processes to pursue cancer research and a career as a doctor in order to preserve and protect human life, forage relationships with the suffering, or those who are greatly in need of comfort. As a volunteer EMT, I often find myself wondering how my patient will be treated after they are no longer in my care. As a biochemistry researcher, I have spent hundreds (if not thousands!) of hours in the lab. At Muhlenberg College, I work with Dr. Keri Colabroy, studying the enzyme kinetics of L-DOPA 2,3-dioxygenase from Streptomyces lincolnensis, an enzyme involved in the biosynthetic pathway of the propylhygric acid moiety of the antibiotic lincomycin. Last summer, I worked many hours with Dr. Irina Balyasnikova, performing cell-based neuroimmunology research for the treatment of brain malignancies, more specifically, employing mRNA therapeutics for the treatment of brain cancer. Cancer cells arise from the failure of different chemical pathways, and I am fascinated by immunotherapeutic treatments that harness a patient’s own artillery to combat disease.

My research directly connects my ambitions to employ biochemical knowledge and techniques to improve the lives of others as a future physician. I am further motivated to learn by the questions that I am not sure I will ever have the ability to answer. What is consciousness? Where is last Thursday? Why are endings hard? Why does the universe bother to exist? When did it start, where will it end? Is immortality the end goal? If not, what is? And why? Are we missing something that would allow us to answer these questions? Is there an answer? Why do we need one? And on and on…Unfortunately, I do not know, but I think this: existing is delightful yet painfully perplexing. Humans spend a great deal of time searching for answers as a natural quest for understanding and as distraction from existential loneliness. But then again, who am I to say?


  1. American Chemical Society. College to Career Biological/Biochemistry. (accessed Jan 19, 2019).