My name is Ali Hamandi, and I am a rising senior at Penn, majoring in neuroscience and minoring in chemistry. In the Spring of my junior year at Penn, I began working in Dr. Li Shen’s lab at the Perelman School of Medicine exploring the heterogeneous etiology of Alzheimer’s Disease. Through the STEER program, I have been able to continue this work over the summer and expand both my knowledge in the subfield and the scope of my research project to include the influence of environmental factors on AD.
What is your summer research project?
The primary goal of my summer research project has been to elucidate the association between environmental factors and specific single nucleotide polymorphisms correlated with specific presentations of Alzheimer’s Disease. My work relies on massive data banks collected through the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and other collaborating projects, which include longitudinal data concerning cognitive, biomarker, and imaging data of Alzheimer’s patients and patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at risk of developing AD. Environmental factors of interest include the gender of patients, their level of education, and whether they abide in the status of MCI or develop AD.
What are the implications of your research?
The overall goal of my research is to better differentiate how different genetic-environmental causes lead to the different constellations of symptoms which are aggregated under the label of Alzheimer’s Disease. AD is likely heterogeneous in nature and is not widely acknowledged as such due to a lack of understanding of the variety of causal mechanisms underlying it. Elucidating different causal mechanisms for AD can ultimately lead to the development of more targeted therapies against the disease and early detection protocols based around screening procedures and a holistic profile of each individual patient’s history of environmental exposures which place them at risk.
What new skills have you gained through your research?
Through my time at the Shen Lab, I learned how to work with massive data structures and how to conduct Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) using specialized software. I also developed a keener understanding of contemporary literature on Alzheimer’s Disease and the various theoretical frameworks scientists have developed to aid its diagnosis and the detection of strongly associated genetic and environmental factors on the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease. Through my time in the STEER program, I have been able to widen my scope of my exploration and to deepen my research experience.