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UMass Chan biomedical sciences student studies a gene that causes ALS

By Kaylee Pugliese

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

April 04, 2022

Megan Fowler-Magaw has always been interested in neuroscience. Now she’s putting that passion into studying amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that involves the loss of motor neurons that control voluntary muscles.

Fowler-Magaw, a PhD student in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, studies a specific gene that is found in 97 percent of ALS cases, transactive response DNA-binding protein, or TDP-43.

“There are so many diseases that need to be studied and I would be happy studying many of them. But I do think the fact that ALS is so heterogeneous and that within three to five years of diagnosis, people are unfortunately dying from it. I think that’s something that really deserves attention,” Fowler-Magaw said. “It all starts in the brain and research is where it starts to hopefully get better.”

The Westford native said she gravitated toward topics like physics, psychology, biology and chemistry during high school.

“I really found that I was more interested in things that you could tangibly manipulate,” she said.

Fowler-Magaw has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral neuroscience from Northeastern University. She enjoyed studying areas of human behavior, which led her to study neuroscience at UMass Chan Medical School. She works in the lab led by Daryl A. Bosco, PhD, professor of neurology.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has many mutations. Ninety to 95 percent of cases are classified as sporadic. That means there isn’t one gene mutation that causes the disease, making it important to find a common denominator between them. Fowler-Magaw studies how chronic or aberrant cellular stress in ALS—or even other diseases that are similar—could instigate or be related to TDP-43.

“It’s really interesting to think of what starts this pathology,” Fowler-Magaw said. “What happens that makes the wild-type version of this gene become pathogenic and contribute to motor neuron degeneration in ALS?”

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page. 

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