Feature Stories Campus Events

25 and Counting At prestigious labs around the country, W&L students have pushed themselves and the frontiers of science in the quest to find a cure for a rare disease.

DART5-2016-18-800x533 25 and CountingDART fellows from 2016-18. From l. to r.: Kate Dalia ’18, Julia Yerger ’19, Sarah Clifford ’19, Michael Colavita ’18, Bryan D’Ostroph ’19, Zach Salter ’19, Erin Fykes ’18, Ryan Hodgson ’18.

“I learned that failing to find the answer you were expecting is not failure at all, but another piece of knowledge bringing you closer to your goal.”
~ Julia Yerger ’19

For the last eight years, Phil Marella ’81 and his wife, Andrea, have provided funding from their foundation, Dana’s Angels Research Trust (DART), to place W&L students — 25 and counting — into some of the most prestigious labs in the country to work on a disease that has a deeply personal meaning for the Marella family.

In 2011, Marella approached W&L with the idea that DART could provide research stipends for undergraduate students majoring in science. The organization raises money in support of research on Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC), a lysosomal storage disease that manifests predominantly as a collection of progressive, degenerative neuropathologies. At the moment there is no cure. Marella’s son, Andrew, suffers from the disease, and his daughter, Dana, died of it 2013.

In trying to help their children, the Marellas discovered that because there are so few diagnosed cases of NPC, there is very little research being done on it. They have become vigorous advocates for investigation into its cause and potential cure and, through DART, have established collaborations with six laboratories for the support of accelerated research on the disease.

W&L’s DART fellows have spent summers focused on NPC at top-notch medical research facilities, such as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Institute on Childhood and Human Development, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

This past summer, three neuroscience majors continued the work on NCP. “We had another outstanding group this year, and every one of them was invited back after graduating to work in the lab where they carried out their fellowships,” said Fiona Watson, associate professor of biology.

Julia Yerger ’19 worked in the labs of Dr. Charles Vite at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “I had a preconceived notion that research was boring, that people typically spent years and years searching for some answer, failing and altering their methodology over and over to get it right,” she said. “Although this is somewhat true, I learned that failing to find the answer you were expecting is not failure at all, but another piece of knowledge bringing you closer to your goal. Any finding is rewarding and is one more interesting piece of the puzzle. I feel fortunate to have had some promising results in just the 10 weeks I was researching.”

Zach Salter ’19 joined Nobel laureate Joseph Goldstein ’62 at his lab at UT-Southwestern Medical Center. “I gained so much hands-on lab experience, but also the knowledge and understanding of how a professional lab operates on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “My biggest takeaway was the ability to think through and conceptualize an experiment from start to finish. I have worked in other labs before and have understood bits and pieces of the experiment that I was working on but was not able to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.”

“The Dart fellowship,” said Bryan D’Ostroph ’19, who carried out research in Dr. Denny Porter’s lab at the NIH,  “was the perfect way to get to the front lines of research medicine.” Previously, he had only shadowed physicians and volunteered at hospitals. “I learned not only about the science but about what I want going forward in my career. As I venture out into the world — hopefully the world of medicine — I feel more confident since I am now armed with new skills.”

Watson noted that DART fellowships provide a unique opportunity for W&L students to grow personally and professionally. “Through these internships, our students learn how science is done in a very busy lab,” she said. “They are working with post-docs, graduate students and senior scientists,  and it’s exciting to see them thrive in this environment. It’s a chance for them to be a professional and contribute toward peer-review research articles. Sarah Clifford ’19, for example, is the most recent of our students to have her name listed as a co-author for work she did in 2017.”

While W&L students have helped advance the understanding of NPC, there is still much work to be done. Next summer, another group of DART fellows will fan out across the country and take their places in the lab.

Past DART Interns

2011
Cantey Hattink ’12 (biology), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center. Currently a resident at Emory in OB-GYN
Lule Rault ’12 (neuroscience), Ioannou Lab, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Currently in medical school at Emory
Jina Park ’13 (biology), Porter Lab, NIH. Currently a resident at NYU-Langone Medical Center
Nicole Herbst ’11 (neurology), Walkley Lab, Einstein College of Medicine. Currently a resident at Boston Medical Center in Internal Medicine

2012
Robert Vestal ’13 (biochemistry), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center.
Jena Glavy ’14 (neuroscience), Ioannou Lab, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Currently in medical school at FAU
Jina Park ’13 (biology), Porter Lab, NIH (second appointment)
Keaton Fletcher ’13 (neurology), Walkley Lab, Einstein College of Medicine. Currently in doctoral program in I/O psychology at University of South Florida

2013
Katie Driest ’14 (biochemistry), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center. Currently in doctoral program in Cancer Biology at Stanford
Jena Glavy ’14 (neurology), Ioannou Lab, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Currently in medical school at FAU
Jina Park ’13 (biology). Porter Lab, NIH (third appointment)
Rachel Christensen ’15 (neurology), Walkley Lab, Einstein College of Medicine. Currently a clinical research assistant in the PediMIND Research Unit at Bradley-Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.

2014
McCauley Massie ’15 (neurology), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center. Currently in medical school at Emory.
Rachel Solomon ’16 (neurology), Ioannou Lab, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Currently a surgical assistant at Washington Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
Annie Gauf ’15 (neurology). Porter Lab, NIH. Program Coordinator for ChildSpring International in Atlanta
Noah Lessing ’15 (neurology), Walkley Lab, Einstein College of Medicine. Currently in medical school at University of Maryland

2015
Emily Doran ’17 (biology), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center. Program Manager at Epic Healthcare Software.
Scott Philips ’17 (neurology), Ioannou Lab, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dental School
Jenny Wang ’17 (psychology). Porter Lab, NIH.
Nicole Kasica ’17 (neurology), Vite Lab, UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine. Currently in doctoral program in Neuroscience at Wake Forest.
Harrison Westgarth ’17 (biology), Walkley Lab, Einstein College of Medicine. Fulbright 2017

2016
Erin Fykes ’18 (biology), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center.
Harrison Westgarth ’17 (biology). Porter Lab, NIH. Fulbright 2017
Ryan Hodgson ’18 (sociology and anthropology), Vite Lab, UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine.

2017
Michael Colavita ’18 (neurology), Brown-Goldstein Lab, UT-Southwestern Medical Center.
Sarah Clifford ’19 (biology). Porter Lab, NIH.
Kate Dalia ’18 (neurology), Vite Lab, UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine.