Graduate Student receives fellowship for research on neurodegenerative diseases
University of Iowa Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience student, Ryan Betters, has won the Kwak-Ferguson Fellowship, a $10,000 award from the Iowa Neuroscience Institute for an upper-level graduate student working in the area of neurodegenerative diseases. His research focuses on the role of tau-14-3-3 protein interaction in Alzheimer disease-related neurodegeneration. His mentors are Marco Hefti, MD, assistant professor of pathology and Michael Dailey, PhD, associate professor of biology.
The tau protein is thought to be the primary cause of neurodegeneration in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Betters is studying the role of a group of proteins called the 14-3-3 family, which attaches itself to proteins such as tau and seems to be involved in allowing tau to cause injury and death in the aging brain. The Hefti lab has found similarities in tau in Alzheimer’s and in the developing human brain. In both cases, phosphorylation occurs, which is a process of adding a phosphate group to an existing molecule to prepare it to change or do work. However, during development, phosphorylation does not appear to have any adverse effects as it does in the aging brain. Betters and the Hefti lab are seeking to identify mechanisms for the resilience of the fetal brain to tau toxicity.
Hefti called Betters “an exceptionally gifted, hardworking, and meticulous graduate student and scientist,” and said he expects Betters will be a future leader in neuroscience, particularly in neurodegenerative disease research.
Betters, who is beginning his 4th year in the UI Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience this fall, will present his work at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago in November.
The Kwak-Ferguson Fellowship was established by Donald Timm, a Muscatine native and graduate of the UI College of Law who spent more than 30 years working for the U.S. Department of Defense as an expert on international law. He created the fellowship in honor of two individuals—his friend and mentor, Mr. Myung-Duk Kwak, a Korean attorney and statesman, and his aunt, Louis A.M. (Amelia Marie) Brown Ferguson, an educator and missionary—both of whom died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.