Undergraduate Researcher Profile: Ellen Zhang

Ellen Zhang

Ellen Zhang has graduated in 2019 with concentration in Integrative Biology. Ellen worked under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Schwarzschild at the MGH Molecular Neurobiology department and studied the baseline urate levels as a marker for predicting Parkinson’s disease progression.

Student's perspective:

In Dr. Michael Schwarzschild’s Laboratory this summer, I had the opportunity to delve into research on Parkinson’s Disease (PD), which I deeply care about due personal experiences with it. Here, I achieved a better understanding and mastering of the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a landmark international observational clinical study aimed at identifying PD biomarkers that could be used in therapeutic studies to slow, prevent, or reverse the underlying disease process. PPMI is a rich data set that verifies biomarkers in PD through following multiple cohorts of significant interest at research sites around the world. Under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Schwarzschild, I hypothesized that higher baseline serum urate predicts a slower rate of Parkinson’s disease progression. Here, I programmed to quantify PD progression measured through physical tests, cognitive exams, and DaTscans.

While the majority of my time in the lab has been working on data analysis, I have also gained more experience in wet lab and in the clinic. In the wet lab, I tested the effects of a new drug, Edaravone, on the urate levels of mice. This component of my research allowed me to see next possible steps of experimentation, after the identification of biomarkers. Meanwhile, in clinic, I was able to see various patients with movement disorders, including PD. Here, I was better understood the importance and impact of my research, which motivated me greatly. Ultimately, my research experience has been both enriching and diverse, propelling me into a career in science and medicine; specifically, I hope to enter the field of geriatrics and/or neurodegenerative diseases.