Amherst student developing therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A local high school student used the last few months to get a taste of university but, more importantly, to try and find a treatment for people with Parkinson’s Disease.

Dominique Ferrarelli, a Grade 12 student at General Amherst High School, worked with biochemistry professors and students at the University of Windsor on developing a therapeutic treatment for those with Parkinson’s Disease.

“Dominique contacted me in November and submitted a very nice proposal,” said Dr. Siyaram Pandey, biochemistry professor at the University of Windsor. “I was very thrilled that a high school student made a very ‘to-the-point’ proposal.”

The model Ferrarelli worked with involved C elegans, or microscopic worms, which Pandey indicated is “not easy” but does have advantages to other models. He said it is known how many cells such worms have and how those cells react.

“Everything is very well known,” said Pandey. “Those worms have a very small life-cycle. All the brain cells are known already.”

The University of Windsor often works with mice or rats and, using a formula known as water soluble CoQ10, has found tests that halt the progression of Parkinson’s Disease.   However, Pandey noted they could not use mice or rats while working with a high school student.

 

General Amherst student Dominique Ferrarelli (centre) recently had the opportunity to study in the biochemistry lab at the University of Windsor on a project that involved developing a therapeutic treatment for Parkinson's Disease. At left is biochemistry professor Dr. Siyaram Pandey while graduate student  Krithika Muthukumaran is at right.

General Amherst student Dominique Ferrarelli (centre) recently had the opportunity to study in the biochemistry lab at the University of Windsor on a project that involved developing a therapeutic treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. At left is biochemistry professor Dr. Siyaram Pandey while graduate student Krithika Muthukumaran is at right.

“We had to look for a different model for her,” he explained.

Pandey noted that the C elegans model is simple and it could help to evaluate the toxicity of different environmental toxins as well as it would be useful to finding out how to protect brain cells against these toxins.

Working on the project as well as her high school work was “extraordinary,” he added. Pandey said it is “very special” and rare to find a high school student to exceed expectations as Ferrarelli did.

“She is very knowledgeable. She knew the project right away,” added graduate student Krithika Muthukumaran. “She exceeded my expectations for sure. I just had to explain things once and she knew what was going on.”

Stating that she wanted to perform research for some time, Ferrarelli said she noticed the opportunity to apply to do research at the university online and went for it. She hopes to inspire other students to discover and take advantage of such opportunities.

“I’ve really been interested in neurology for awhile,” she said.

Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease were of particular focus, she said, with Parkinson’s being of most interest to her.

“I wanted to learn more about it,” she said.

Admitting it often wasn’t easy balancing regular school life with her work at the university, Ferrarelli still encourages others to get involved. Teachers at General Amherst were very supportive of her efforts as well, she added.

“It was an amazing experience. We’re trying to get more students to do something like this too,” she said.

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