Your name, program, dissertation title, mentor.
Name: Abdulhafiz Imam Aliagan
Program: Integrated Biomedical Sciences (IBMS), Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine
Dissertation title: Role of the inner mitochondrial membrane protein (Mic60) in Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis
Mentor: Jean C. Bopassa, Ph.D
Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health San Antonio, and your program.
I was born in Ilorin, Kwara State Nigeria. I am first of eleven, and I began my education as an homeschooled kid, with my mum as my teacher. My parents expanded the homeschool system to become a full-blown nursery, primary and high school, now known as An-nur Islamic Schools, Ilorin from which I graduated. I obtained my bachelor’s in science degree in Microbiology at Kwara State University in 2013. Shortly after, I obtained my master’s in science degree from Texas A&M University, Kingsville.
I chose UT Health San Antonio for my Ph.D. program because when I interviewed, I realized that the umbrella IBMS program provides a “one size fits all” and a customizable education that provided me with the flexibility to mold my training. So when the admission letter came, it was a no brainer to accept.
What has been the highlight of graduate school so far? Have you won any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?
I have enjoyed every second of grad school. Every class, every interaction everybody, every successful experiment, every disappointing result, every published paper—EVERYTHING. What stands out to me if you would ask me to pick one, I would say the very beginning. A solar eclipse on August 21st 2017, and everyone, faculty, student and staff coming out together to watch (safely) and hangout. What a way to start grad school.
I won a couple of awards in my academic career. Recently, I won the John M. Johnson Distinguished Student of the year award. This award is given to a graduate student who has not only made outstanding scientific contributions to their field, but has also contributed to the Department of Cellular & Integrative Physiology through leadership and service. So I am glad and proud to have ticked those boxes.
Please provide a few sentences summarizing your dissertation. What was the experience like for you?
My dissertation researched focuses on understanding the role of Mic60 in Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis. Mic60 is a protein whose abundance is drastically depleted in Parkinson’s disease patients. In my dissertation, I provided two distinct pathways that leads to the degradation of Mic60 as well as elucidated the impact of Mic60 reduction in dopaminergic neurons using a novel mouse model. My dissertation research provides a novel therapeutic target for the treatment/management of Parkinson’s disease. My mentor is Dr. Jean Bopassa.
Starting a project from the ground up is quite challenging. A lot of reading, a lot of failed experiments, a lot of protocol optimization and generating new protocols. Asking questions and not afraid of taking the bold steps helped me a lot in this project.
Why are you passionate about your research topic? How did you first become interested in it?
I am passionate about helping people in any capacity. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common adult-onset neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. For two centuries since it was first described, we still do not understand the full molecular mechanisms that underly the preferential degeneration of dopaminergic neurons which are affected in Parkinson’s disease.
So, like other scientists before me, I went into this research to contribute my quota to understanding the whole disease and to provide novel treatment options for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
I will be joining Pfizer as a Senior Scientist in the Biomedicine Design team in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Any advice for your fellow graduate students?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to explore scientifically. Always think of the question “Why and How?” Also make extensive research before embarking on a research idea or procedure.