Adan Olivares, a biology major at LaGuardia Community College, earned top awards for his research for a cure for Alzheimer's.
Olivares studies High Mobility Group Box1, a type of protein, and how it hinders brain cells called microglia from removing another protein associated with Alzheimer's, called beta amyloid. Olivares and his mentor, Dr. Maria Entezari, studied the protein for three months and found when HMGB1 is in the brain, microglia are unable to move toward the amyloid protein and remove them.
“That is the problem,” Olivares said. “If they can inhibit this protein, they can then do their function and move toward those plaques and remove them.”
Also to his surprise, Olivares and his mentor discovered that microglia also release HMGB1. “Who would have thought these good cells also release this harmful protein?” he said.
He won best poster presentation in the neuroscience category at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, a nationwide competition that received 1,815 abstracts. In the neuroscience category, Olivares competed against about 200 undergraduates from such colleges as Columbia University, Stonybrook University, Hunter College and Queens College.
At the conference, he received words of encouragement from one of the judges who was impressed with his research.
“She told me to continue my education in biology and my research and maybe in 10 years I would be one of the judges,” he said.
Olivares also took first place at the 45th Annual Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists, out of 119 graduates and undergraduates.
For the 25-year-old researcher, the work has opened up a whole new world for him. “The work is fascinating,” said Olivares, whose eyes light up when he talks about culturing cells, watching the migration of cells and taking pictures under the microscope. “And I want to continue with my research.”
Olivares began college with the goal of a career as a physician’s assistant. Research was not in the plan, but that all changed when a professor who was impressed with his lab work in her biology class encouraged him to participate in the college’s NIH-Bridges to the Baccalaureate, a program that provides minority students with the opportunity to engage in challenging hands-on, faculty-supervised research in the fields of biology, chemistry, behavioral sciences, mathematics and bioengineering.
With that little push, Olivares teamed up last summer with Entezari and together they began their research.
Olivares is continuing his work with Entezari, and when he graduates next summer, he said he is looking at many options. There is the program at Queens College, where he can pursue a bachelor’s degree while doing research; or a Hunter College program where he can work toward a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D., conducting research along the way.
“The experience has changed my whole mindset in terms of what I want to do,” he said.