Make The Connection

Brain Development

August 13, 2019 – by Cole Hatcher

Ismail Ozgenc ’20 spent the summer interning at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Supported by an OWU Connection grant, Ozgenc explored brain development and changes with a hope of one day better understanding conditions including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. (Photo by Rachel Fox)

Ohio Wesleyan Student Assists with Psychiatry Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Ismail Ozgenc ’20
Hometown: Nicosia, North Cyprus
Major: Neuroscience
Minors: Biology and Chemistry
OWU Connection experience: “Investigation of prefrontal cortex circuit refinement over postnatal development,” a summer research internship in the laboratory of Beth Stevens, Ph.D., at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. The center is part of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Supported by an OWU Theory-to-Practice Grant, Ozgenc has spent the summer working in Dr. Stevens’ lab, which studies the resident immune cells of the brain – microglia. Her research seeks to understand the mechanisms that regulate the disappearance of synapses – junctions where nerves communicate with each other – by focusing on how immune-related molecules affect this process.

What I’m Helping to Research

“My work here at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute focuses on the development of the pre-frontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in complex planning, complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making, and moderating social behavior.

“I am specifically investigating the changing pattern of numerous types of synapses and neurons, as well as myelination, to better understand how this complex region of the brain is changing through development and how/when/which types of synapses are potentially pruned by microglia.

“Working on this project and learning from my supervisor, Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., senior staff scientist at the Broad Institute and the Stevens Lab, I have realized it is very crucial to know more about how this very important region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is developing and refining over time, and what are the changes in specific synapses and neurons during adolescence.

“This is important because the prefrontal cortex is not only involved in diseases like schizophrenia, but also in Alzheimer’s disease as its connection to the hippocampus is a significant link to emotion and cognition.

“I believe this research brings together a lot of different scientific questions regarding neurodevelopment of prefrontal cortex and involvement of microglia in both different pathophysiologies. I am very thankful to have such an opportunity to learn from this project and also very motivated and excited to contribute to exploring more in this area in the future.”

Why I Chose This Experience

“Growing up with close family members who suffered from diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and seeing how many people are affected from such diseases and how problematic it is globally, I was highly motivated to jump into pursuing further research in the neuroscience-immunology area. …

“I did not hesitate a second to choose this opportunity as I believe that the Stevens Lab is a perfect environment for my future plans, which is to better understand the complex aspects of neuroimmunology and neural-immune interactions in neurological diseases, particularly in neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental diseases. The research being conducted here has a high potential of exploring very consequential information of immunological actions in Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

“Being a curious student who is very passionate about exploring and making an impact in this field, I believe that being in Stevens Lab is an important step for me toward my future goals. I am surrounded by great neuroscientists who contribute to my knowledge in many ways. The professionals around me not only teach me science, but also help me improve my skills such as integrating leadership abilities in a scientific professional setting.”

Previous Research Experiences

“At the University College London, I was able to dive into better understanding important aspects of neurodegeneration, particularly of Alzheimer’s disease. Under the supervision of Dr. Dervis Salih, I contributed to the investigation of genes related to aging with an interest in ERK and the insulin/insulin-like pathway.

“After my second-year studies at Ohio Wesleyan, I spent one and a half months working with neurologists and neurosurgeons on electrophysiological neuromonitoring during spinal tumor and scoliosis surgeries at Acıbadem Medical school of Istanbul. … For the next one and a half months, I interned at the University of Oxford/Eastern Mediterranean University to gather/process data for Women’s Health Research of North Cyprus.

“Coming back to Ohio Wesleyan for my third-year studies, I have taken some advanced classes after which I realized along with neuroscience, I also have a great interest in computational science and genomics. At the same time, I have interned at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) as an undergraduate emergency medicine research assistant.

“My work at NCH involved gathering clinical research data in different units such as mental illnesses, neuroimaging, neurological diseases, and acute illnesses. Seeing how clinical medicine can be very limited in many circumstances, I further understood the significance of medical research toward expanding the limits of clinical medicine and solidified my goal of pursuing a research-oriented career in neurosciences.”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan

“Ohio Wesleyan is a great place to improve as a person and to learn beyond the classroom. I am grateful for the fact that Ohio Wesleyan provided me opportunities to successfully develop my leadership skills, get involved, and make great connections with some great professors.”

My Plans After Graduation

“I am applying to Ph.D. programs in neurosciences, with a great interest in neuroimmunology and the role it plays in neurodegeneration neurodevelopmental diseases. I am also fascinated by computational science and am very interested to further improve myself in artificial intelligence/deep learning and computational analysis.”