Bass Connections Student Spotlight: Mohanapriya Cumaran
Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience ’23
Gene Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease and Ethical Aspects of Genome Editing (2020-2021)
My role on my Bass Connections team centered around developing innovative gene editing technologies using the CRISPR/Cas9 system to help reduce the proliferation of a gene responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Last year, I worked on a literature review that centered around the more innovative and therapeutic gene editing technologies.
I always found genetics interesting. I was in a related FOCUS program as a first-year, so I thought this team was a perfect opportunity to continue that interest. I really like design and engineering, and with this team, I’m the first person to design the technology on the ground floor. Eventually, people with neurodegenerative conditions can use this therapy to improve their quality of life.
I really like the idea of Bass Connections as a gateway into collaborative and interdisciplinary teamwork. As a BME and premed student, most of my classes and activities are STEM-related. I think the thing that really attracted me about Bass Connections was how versatile the teams are. I feel like with classes and separate research labs, there’s more of an individual focus and not really a lot of collaboration with other parts of the team.
In addition to gene editing technologies, we also focus on the ethical aspects of genome engineering, including the associated costs of a potential therapy and the implications for the community. I really like that aspect of the team because they bring in guest speakers and even actual patients with Alzheimer’s disease and get their perspective on the different therapies that we're working on. I think the diversity of understanding for a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s from all different angles is important as a student as well as a researcher.
After joining this team, I’m considering a career in research and perhaps even doing clinical-related research. When I came to Duke, I thought I wanted to go to medical school and become a physician. I’m realizing more now that lab experience along with understanding the disease and getting to the root cause of the problem are so important to be able to treat patients, which is the ultimate goal. I’m really delving into more research opportunities and possible research career paths, so I think that in that area the team has really helped me narrow down my focus.
October 2021; excerpts from a conversation with Dana Adcock ’22