Tuesday, May 29, 2018

University of Iowa Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience student, Benjamin De Corte, has won the Kwak-Ferguson Fellowship, a $10,000 award from the Iowa Neuroscience Institute for an upper level graduate student working in the area of neurodegenerative diseases. His research in the lab of Nandakumar Narayanan, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, focuses on the cognitive symptoms seen in disorders that disrupt the striatum in the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

“The striatum is important for both executing motor movements, like walking, and engaging cognitive functions, such as learning and memory,” De Corte says.  “Substantial research has been dedicated to treating the motor impairments seen in disorders that affect the striatum. However, we know far less about how to treat the cognitive impairments in these diseases.”

His research focuses on how dopamine—a neurotransmitter that is often disrupted in Parkinson's disease—facilitates cognitive processing in the striatum. He has developed a method to assess how disrupting dopamine affects the activity of striatal neurons during cognitive tasks. He is also focused on which areas of the brain the striatum needs to communicate with in order to facilitate cognitive function.

“Ultimately, I hope my research will help us develop new treatments for the cognitive symptoms seen in disorders that affect striatal function,” he says.

De Corte, who is beginning his 4th year in the UI Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience, will present his work at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego in November 2018.

The Kwak-Ferguson Fellowship is the latest achievement in an impressive career as a young neuroscientist. De Corte has won a fellowship from the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, a National Research Service Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Scholarship, and Villanova University’s Ingeborg and Byron Ward Outstanding Thesis Award for his master’s degree work. (He is also recipient of UI Graduate College’s Iowa Recruitment Fellowship.)

Narayanan called De Corte an “outstanding” choice to receive Fellowship support from the Iowa Neuroscience Institute: “He thinks critically, is naturally curious, seeks out systematic, thorough science, and has the temperament and tenacity to perform difficult experiments.”

The Kwak-Ferguson Fellowship was established by Donald Timm, a Muscatine native and graduate of the UI College of Law who spent more than 30 years working for the U.S. Department of Defense as an expert on international law. He created the fellowship in honor of two individuals—his friend and mentor, Mr. Myung-Duk Kwak, a Korean attorney and statesman, and his aunt, Louis A.M. (Amelia Marie) Brown Ferguson, an educator and missionary—both of whom died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.

(Original article here.)