Understanding Parkinson's Disease

Andrew Weinberger Spends Summer at Jewish General Hospital

September 19, 2017
Andrew Weinberger researched Parkinson\'s Disease and traveled to Moscow with Touro.

What kind of research were you doing?

I did neuro-research on Parkinson’s Disease. We looked at the relationships between overexpression of HO-1 (Heme Oxygenase), an enzyme that’s attributed to stress, and Parkinson’s. We also examined if HO-1 is connected to schizophrenia.

What were your daily responsibilities?

My responsibilities were very focused on the nitty-gritty of the research. While I wasn’t writing the studies, I ran a lot of the tests like the Western Blots and PCRs. The research wasn’t very repetitive since we studied diverse subjects. For example, we expanded cell cultures through incubation; dissected mice, and looked at the saliva of patients with Parkinson’s. The research was very open-ended so we had a lot of room to explore.

We tried to see if high levels of HO-1 within the mice’s glial cells (non-neuronal cells that provide protection and support to the neurons) correlate with increased risk of Parkinson’s Disease. We also looked to see if the abundance of HO-1 has any effect on their bone structure development. These studies were preliminary.

Did the lab discover anything while you were there?

We weren’t at the stage of looking for a cure for Parkinson’s, but we were looking to enhance our understanding of the disease. While nothing is ever simple, we found evidence that higher levels of HO-1 are present when someone has Parkinson’s.

Was there a class at LCM that helped prepare you for this experience?

Organic chemistry with Dr. Shinnar. She didn’t expect anything less than perfection. If you weren’t perfect with your measurements in lab you wouldn’t get anywhere. This is incredibly true in a lab; everything, even the smallest details, must be considered and observed. If you’re off by a single minute thing, your results can be invalidated.

You also shadowed a doctor in the emergency room; what was that like?

This was my second time shadowing a doctor in the ER. I shadowed an ER doctor in Maimonides but this was more exciting. In Maimonides, most of our cases were homeless people who needed a place to sleep for the night. The cases were more varied at Jewish General Hospital; I’ve seen doctors open someone’s chest to remove a broken and infected central line; I’ve seen dozens of cases of chest pain; I’ve even seen cardiac arrests. I decided to shadow an emergency doctor because I wanted to get a feel of what the job was actually like.

Did anything surprise you about it?

The paperwork. Everything is documented. I thought there would be much less paperwork.

Do you still want to become an ER doctor?

Yes. It confirmed my suspicions. I had a feeling I would like it and I liked how exciting the job was. You’re never doing the same thing. I liked the lack of routine, though life in the ER is more routine than I initially thought. But when the purple lights go off, the page for the resuscitation room, you know there’s something serious and someone really needs your help. It’s amazing.

How was the Summer Program in Moscow?

It was an amazing experience. You hear about the Soviet Union and Russia in the news and in history classes, but it doesn’t compare to seeing it for yourself. I was especially interested in how Russia’s Jews are feeling more confident in rejoining the Jewish community and returning to their roots.

What surprised you about Moscow?

The legitimate fear people have about speaking out against the government, despite the fall of the Soviet Union. Regardless of whether you’re in New York or Canada, you’re in a liberal democracy and you don’t have that fear. The people in Russia are almost habitually scared of the government; there is this illusion that the government is constantly watching you.

What was your favorite moment of the trip?

I had two. We visited Red Square, which was pretty cool because I only saw it on the news and in the movies. Another great moment was joining a farbrengen with the local community members. Everyone spoke to us as if we were locals and we got to meet many Jewish Moscovites.