Emmanuella Takyi

April 2017

 

Emmanuella Takyi is a 2017 recipient of a Parkinson Association of Alberta Exploring grant for her study "key players in the unknown mechanism of Parkinson disease: the pursuit of molecular targeted therapy".


Parkinson Association of Alberta (PA): Can you give us a bit of background about yourself?

 

Emmanuella Takyi (ET): I did my undergrad in medical biochemistry at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna. I graduated in 2016 and jumped into this Master’s program at the University of Alberta. I’m hoping to attend medical school in the future.

I volunteer at Parkinson Association of Alberta with the Goal Setters program. It’s once a week, dealing with apathy and depression in Parkinson’s patients. We talk about goals and focus on individual goals for the attendees.

It’s difficult to admit to apathy and depression—it’s not really something that anyone is comfortable admitting to themselves, let alone other people. 

 

(PA):Do you think that it helps them, to open up and talk about it?

 

(ET): I think so. The last session I was introduced to the participants and they were very open to talking about their experiences, their diagnosis, and what they want to work on, what they’re struggling with. I think that once they’re actually in it, being surrounded by other people that are going through a similar situation, knowing they’re not alone.

 

(PA): Why did you choose to go into biochemistry, and specifically neuroscience?

 

(ET): Funny story, actually. I originally wanted to do my undergrad in neuroscience so I applied to the undergrad program here at U of A. I also applied to pre-pharmacy at UBC–O. I got accepted into both programs but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.

I was 17 and I just wanted to get away from home and I thought, “BC! That sounds like a great idea!”

One of my best friends from junior high was also going there. We had talked about going there since grade 9, so we said, “Let’s actually do it.”

I don’t regret the decision but it’s an interesting decision. It might have made my life easier if I made a different decision because now I’m pursuing my masters in neuroscience so there are some hills I have to overcome that others maybe don’t have to, because they’ve already studied neuroscience.

 

(PA): What brought you to Alberta?

 

(ET): I’m from Calgary. It’s good to be back in Alberta—I’m only a few hours from home. Edmonton is new to me; I’ve been here for 6-7 months but it still feels brand new. I like it.

 

(PA): How would you explain your research to someone without a medical background?

It sounds more complicated than it is. Essentially what I’m focusing on is a gene, PARK6 that is implicated in Parkinson disease. Mutations in the gene result in a defect of the protein product. This defective protein product results in premature cell death. That’s the cell death you see in the dopaminergic neurons, which you see in Parkinson’s.

The mutation and the gene are only implicated in a familial form of Parkinsons’s – so not all forms have this mutation in common. It’s an autosomal recessive.

 

(PA): Does your study focus on early-onset Parkinson’s?

 

(ET): Yes. This gene in particular; mutations can lead to early onset Parkinson disease.

 

(PA): Research has shown that there is a stronger genetic component to Parkinson’s than previously believed, especially with young onset. Do you expect to support this?

It’s a little more difficult because there are a lot of genes which are implicated in early onset Parkinson’s so I’m only looking at one gene. In a sense, yes, because I think that understanding one of the mutations can lead to understanding many of them.

 

(PA): What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

 

(ET): A better understanding of the gene and why specific mutations cause Parkinson’s and other mutations don’t

 

(PA): What are the next steps?

 

(ET): I’m currently working on purifying the protein product of the gene and we’ll be performing tests to see how these mutations affect interactions and activity with proteins that it naturally interacts with.

 

(PA): The Parkinson’s-related research occurring in Alberta is well-known. It’s difficult to speculate, of course, but do you foresee a day where we at least have a better understanding of Parkinson disease and a way to better way to control it? 

 

(ET): Absolutely. One thing that’s really great about Parkinson Association of Alberta and Parkinson’s research in the province is we’re not just focusing on one part or aspect of the disease. We’re looking at the whole range. We’re looking at molecular mechanisms, the effect of different treatments on Parkinson’s patients, different diagnostic and prognostic tools. 

So I think having that broad focus and increased collaboration definitely makes a better understanding of the disease foreseeable.

 

(PA): Any thank yous or parting words?

 

(ET): I would like to acknowledge everyone who is suffering with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. I want to let them know that there is hope and we’re working towards finding better treatments and even a cure. Thanks to everyone from my lab: Dr. Joanne Lemieux - my supervisor, Dr. Elena Arutyunova, Dr. Rashmi Panigrahi, Laine Lysyk, and Andrew Song. 

 
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