A LaGuardia Community College Student Receives Recognition for His Research on Alzheimer’s

Long Island City, NY—Adan Olivares, a biology major at LaGuardia Community College who has been conducting research he hopes may help lead to a breakthrough in the cure for Alzheimer’s, won two best poster presentations at two prestigious collegiate competitions for his important work. 

Most recently, he won best poster presentation in the neuroscience category at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), a nation-wide competition that received 1,815 abstracts.  In the neuroscience category, Adan was competing against some 200 undergraduates from such colleges as Columbia University, Stonybrook University, Hunter College and Queens College.

And at the 45th Annual Metropolitan Association of Colleges and Universities Biologists (MACUB), where 119 graduates and undergraduates made presentations, Adan came home with the top prize.

The research that has received high praise from judges at both competitions looks at how the High Mobility Group Box1 (MHGB1) affects the function of microglia–the macrophages of our brain system–in removing beta amyloid, a protein that is associated with Alzheimer’s. 

After only three months of examining the role of MHGB1 on the functions of microglia, Adan and his mentor, Dr. Maria Entezari, found that if there is a high concentration of MHGB1 in the brain, microglia is unable to move toward the amyloid protein and remove them.  “That is the problem,” he said.  “If they can inhibit this protein, they can then do their function and move toward those plaques and remove them.”

To his surprise, Adan and his mentor also discovered that microglia also releases MHGB1.  “Who would have thought these good cells also release this harmful protein,” he said.

For the 25-year-old researcher, the work has opened up a whole new world for him.  “The work is fascinating,” said Adan 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.”

For Adan, who enrolled at LaGuardia in 2010 with the goal of earning an associate degree in biology as the first step toward a career as a physician’s assistant, research was not in the plan.  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, Adan teamed up last summer with Dr. Entezari and together they began their research.  “It was difficult at first, but with the help and encouragement of Dr. Entezari I quickly discovered I had a passion for research.”

Within three months they came up with the findings Adan presented at the conferences. 

At the conferences, Adan’s commitment to research was reinforced.  “I got to talk to so many different people who are involved in different research—cancer, environmental remediation,” he said.  “They are all interested in curing something or finding a solution to something.”

It was also at the ABRCMS conference that 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. 

Adan is continuing his work with Dr. 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 the Hunter College program where you can work toward a bachelor’s, masters and Ph.D., all the time conducting research. 

“The experience has changed my whole mindset in terms of what I want to do,” said Adan. 

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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.