July 14, 2024 Donate

Saline, Saline Education

Local Students Join Fight Against ALS in a Big Way

Ann Arbor area students volunteered this school year in the student program from miRcore, a non-profit organization that builds funds for microgrants, supporting innovative genetic research by integrating the efforts of scientists, doctors, and the public

By Chase Johansson

Students at Saline High School have had the amazing opportunity to learn about DNA, gene expression, genetic disorders, and personalized medicine through the Saline Genes in Disease and Symptoms Club (GIDAS).

This Ann Arbor area student-led group led by Avery Reed, Suhani Dalela, and Cathy Su, is devoted to making scientific research more accessible, and operates under a larger organization called miRcore.

Here in Saline, students can volunteer through the local student-led GIDAS (Genes in Disease and Symptoms) club, which acts under the larger umbrella of miRcore. Every other Friday before school, club members meet to discuss ways to raise money and teach each other the skills learned from miRcore researchers.

Among the club’s initiatives this year, Saline students Alli Gerdes, Chase Johansson, Sidney Becker, Anika Sadek, Kordula Sadek, and Giana Groeb are currently hoping to plan an event with the Saline branch of Wacker Chemical, a Germany-based biotech company who expressed interest in supporting the GIDAS club.

Over the course of this year, miRcore, a non-profit organization dedicated to making medical research more accessible to the general public, has undergone its annual fundraising and advocacy work focusing specifically on a group of genetic diseases. This year, students of the partially Ann Arbor-based organization voted to bring neurodegenerative disorders, such as ALS and Parkinson’s Disease, into the public spotlight.

Under the guidance of scientists versed in the fields of genomics and biology, volunteers are given the opportunity to pursue their own research of genes and gene pathways related to these diseases; this aims to open doors for new gene therapy treatments that, in the future, could pave the way for a cure to these horrible illnesses.

Students in the Ann Arbor area have also been given opportunities to attend in-person lectures at U of M and get involved with volunteer projects. In addition, the organization collaborates with scientists to provide funding for microgrants. This year, student volunteers voted to raise funds for U of M’s Dr. Barmada, who is pursuing cutting-edge research related to ALS in the hopes of finding a potential cure.

Many families can attest to the devastating effects of this neurodegenerative disorder, as they are forced to watch their loved ones slowly and agonizingly lose all bodily function due to the death of nerve cells in the brain. Currently, an ALS diagnosis is effectively a death sentence.

Barmada’s work, however, could provide a glimmer of hope for the future. Dr. Inhan Lee, the founder and president of miRcore, cites her own experiences in muscular dystrophy research, conceding that gathering funds is an extremely difficult process. People were less interested in these strides forward when under the clinical guise of lab coats and rubber gloves. The human element present in the mind of each scientist was invisible to those unfamiliar with the technical jargon and complex procedures.

In response, Lee began to find ways to bridge these gaps between experts and the general public, initially beginning with genetics courses taught to small groups of high school students. Lee was inspired by the idea that over time, students could begin to educate other members of the community and raise further awareness, which would make it easier to fund research projects that citizens felt would benefit society. Since those first initiatives in 2009, miRcore has developed into a flourishing non-profit organization.

While Lee’s personal philosophy toward ethics and telling individual human stories in medicine was crucial in the formation of miRcore’s guiding values (science, compassion, and collaboration), she asserts that “The students are the most important aspect of the organization.” Volunteers from schools across Michigan have collaborated to raise funds, with groups of students asking for donations at local grocery stores and on the U of M campus, in addition to securing partnerships with local businesses.

Students at Saline have asserted that they were excited to have this opportunity to make a difference in medical research. “It’s great because I never even knew this existed! It’s an amazing opportunity for anyone interested in healthcare or genetics!” Groeb enthusiastically stated.

The positive actions of these dedicated students have opened a new avenue toward treating and eventually curing these horrific diseases. As the fields of gene therapy and biotechnology continue to grow in prevalence, projects like those undergone by Dr. Barmada may offer the first steps toward a new era of healthcare.

The organization is thrilled to have currently raised almost seven of its ten-thousand dollar goal. As asserted by students leading fundraising projects, “Any donation matters. Public awareness is the first step toward finding solutions for the crises plaguing society today.”

To support this crucial research, simply scan the QR code and you will be directed to the miRcore fundraising website.