Around 6 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, a number that could double in the next 30 years if left unresolved. Isaac Babcock, a graduating neuroscience major, hopes to help play a role in finding new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases after he graduates from Colorado State University this May.
Babcock, originally a biochemistry major, has always been interested in the brain but admits it is a path he did not anticipate pursuing. That is, until he made one phone-call to James Bamburg, Ph.D., a CSU scientist whose research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases.
“I realized I was really interested in the molecular science that goes on in the brain, and James recommended neuroscience to me,” said Babcock. “So, I changed my major.” That was two years ago, during Babcock’s sophomore year.
When he changed his major, he also enrolled in an integrated degree program that will allow him to get his undergraduate degree in neuroscience and his master’s degree in biochemistry within five years. Babcock will complete his master’s degree in May 2020 and will be the first student to complete the new integrated degree program.
Babcock worked in Bamburg’s lab throughout the remainder of college, focusing on the molecular pathways that lead to the loss of cognition in the brain of neurodegeneration patients, especially Alzheimer’s.
Bamburg’s lab has identified that there is a rod-shaped aggregate of proteins that form in the region of the brain that first starts to degrade in Alzheimer’s patients. “We just don’t know what role that plays in Alzheimer’s, and whether it could perform as a therapeutic target,” said Babcock.
Babcock credits Bamburg for cultivating his passion in neurodegenerative disease research. “He has done so much for me and my personal and academic development.”
Before coming to CSU, Babcock hoped to become a doctor and follow his passion to help people, thinking that becoming a doctor was the path to helping people. But Babcock soon realized his passions were elsewhere, and that research can also help people.
“I heard the statistics on the number of people who die from neurodegenerative diseases and that there are not effective therapeutics or diagnostic tools for the diseases. This complexity sparked my curiosity,” said Babcock. “I always wanted to be doing something that would be helping others.”
Bamburg appreciates Babcock’s passion about research. “He maintains a positive disposition even when things do not work as planned and jumps on new ideas so quickly that he has often tried them within hours of our discussing them,” said Bamburg. “Furthermore, he is one of the nicest and most helpful students with whom my wife Laurie [Babcock’s lab mentor] and I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
Babcock fondly remembers the outdoor climbing trips, snowboarding excursions and the CSU Homecoming 5K race he ran every year with his parents, who currently live in Durango, Colo. “My parents supported me and allowed me to come to CSU,” Babcock said.
The Ram Grad is also serving as the interim head of CSU’s Fluorescence Microscopy/Image Analysis Center. The experience allowed Babcock to learn about research from all over the university, including tuberculosis research, virus research, and fish and wildlife research.
“My role was to train researcher to use the microscopes in the Image Analysis Center,” said Babcok, who is filling in for the facility supervisor while she is on maternity leave. “There have been so many people I’ve gotten to meet and learn about what they’re doing, which has been a really cool opportunity.
Looking to the future
After completing his master’s degree, Babcock hopes to get a Ph.D. and focus on common neurodegenerative pathways.
“I would like to focus on research that connects pathways between neurodegenerative diseases, because I think that could show the common mechanisms that cause these types of diseases to progress,” Babcock said.
But first, Babcock will celebrate the completion of his undergraduate career with those closest to him at graduation on Saturday, May 18.
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Commencement Information