Biology Graduate Lands NIH Research Fellowship

Posted: May 12, 2014 at 5:02 am, Last Updated: May 13, 2014 at 8:42 am

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By Michele McDonald

Graduating biology major Francis Aguisanda landed a coveted job at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research treatments for rare and neglected diseases.

He’ll be a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the National Center for Advancing Translational Science, researching such maladies as a rare lung disease, an inherited brain disorder and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Biology major Francis Aguisanda with his mentor Daniel Cox, conducting research with a confocal microscope at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Biology major Francis Aguisanda with his mentor Daniel Cox, conducting research with a confocal microscope at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

“I was incredibly honored to be accepted for such a competitive position,” Aguisanda says. “The NIH has researchers from the greatest institutions in the world, and I am thrilled to get the chance to work with world-class scientists every day.”

Born in San Diego, Calif., Aguisanda is from a military family and grew up all over the globe. His family settled in Virginia Beach, Va., where he started high school. When it was time to decide on college, he chose George Mason University because he wanted to do meaningful research as an undergraduate, and he certainly accomplished that goal.

Under the tutelage of George Mason neuroscientist Daniel Cox from the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, Aguisanda dived into the intricacies of the brain’s dendrites. How these small “branches” spread from neurons changes how neurons create functioning neural circuits. Dendrites are tiny to start with, but Aguisanda studied them in fruit flies, looking at how molecules called microRNAs regulate dendrite development. He spent hours in the Krasnow lab, frequently in the wee hours because finding time on the institute’s million-dollar microscopes can be tough.

When not in the lab, Aguisanda has been a leader in Mason student groups. He served as a commissioner in student government and coordinated tours for dignitaries on campus, among other activities. As a fellow in Mason’s Office of Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research, he has encouraged other undergraduates to pursue research opportunities.

“My experiences in the lab have been challenging and worthwhile, and they have been instrumental in shaping who I am as a person and as a scientist,” he says.

Write to Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu

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