A question & answer session to get to know the 2022 GG Scholar Laura Montes, 1st year graduate student in the Comparative Biomedical Sciences Program.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am interested in using the knowledge we have acquired in human genetics to further our understanding of neurodegenerative and neurogenetic disorders.

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

My previous experiences solidified my passion for this kind of research. I’ve had the opportunity to do research on Angelman syndrome and Sanfilippo syndrome, two rare genetic disorders in which a single gene highly hinders a child’s development and impacts their ability to live a normal life.

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

By getting a deeper understanding of the cause of genetic disorders and the mechanisms that the involved genes go through, we can use that knowledge as tools to develop and optimize gene therapies that could improve the quality of life of people suffering from those disorders.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

I think it is important to raise awareness about rare neurogenetic disorders in our communities to develop plans of work at school for children in this spectrum; for health practitioners to diagnose and make decisions earlier on in their patients’ lives and develop a plan for their futures; to emphasize to policy makers the importance of offering families genetic counseling and resources to improve the quality of life of their children.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

The central nervous system is highly complex and delicate. Although there are therapies that have been developed to treat these disorders with gene therapy (whether that is adenosine-associated viral vectors or any other form), the blood brain barrier is difficult to cross, so the delivery can be tricky or highly invasive.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

The GG scholars program continues to teach me the importance of interdisciplinary work in advancing science. It has equipped me with tools on how to approach different projects, how to dissect papers in a digestible way, the importance of collaboration, as well as the importance of communication to bridge the gap between science and our communities. GGS not only has equipped me to become a better scientist, but it has also offered a community of bright colleagues that I get to learn from and embrace their different perspectives.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

All living things have a genetic code that identify them as part of a species and as individuals. I am interested in looking into that genetic code and identify strange patterns that could lead to diseases or disorders. With that information, we would then be able to develop a therapy to help people.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to use my training and science advancement to develop therapies that could help many people suffering from a genetic disorder.