Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

SMC graduate spent summer in U-M research

09/27/2019 - 4pm
Abednego T. Saah

Southwestern Michigan College May graduate Abednego T. Saah summered in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan researching Machado-Joseph disease with mice.

MJD is a rare autosomal dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive cerebellar ataxia.

Ataxia mimics symptoms of being drunk or Parkinson’s disease, such as slurred speech, stumbling and falling. A genetic mutation causes lack of muscle control.

Autosomal dominant disease means if either parent gives the defective gene to a child, the child will show symptoms. Therefore, if one parent suffers from this disease and the other does not, there will be a 50-percent chance their child inherits the disease.

MJD was first identified in 1972 in the Azores, a mid-Atlantic archipelago that is an autonomous region of Portugal.

“There is no cure,” said Saah, whose mentor has been researching MJD since 1998, when he was 3 years old.

Unlike other medical conditions, Machado-Joseph disease is not named after researchers, but William Machado and Antone Joseph, patriarchs of families in which the condition was initially described.

Eventually MJD leads to paralysis, though there are no associated intellectual problems. It affects about one in 20,000 people.

“You choose projects based on your interest,” Saah said. “I chose the biomedical field because I anticipate becoming a medical doctor.”

Saah worked fulltime, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with professional educational workshops every Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

He received a blue ribbon on the poster summarizing his research presentation at the closing ceremony.

Saah, from the West African nation of Liberia, lived in Niles upon coming to the United States. He participated in the Community College Summer Research Fellowship Program sponsored by UROP, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at U of M. UROP Director Michelle D. Ferrez, Ed.D., received more than 300 applications and could accept only 50 students.

“Abednego was such a pleasure to get to know and did extremely well this summer as a participant in our Community College Summer Research Fellowship Program,” Ferrez said.

Saah, who hopes to pursue a pharmacology degree at U of M, “met people from Korea, Ukraine, Vienna, Brazil and India. It’s good to meet and interact with different people. The University of Michigan is one of the best in this country based on research. It’s a very good place to be whatever your field is. It’s very exciting to experience not only research, but impressive in the way we were able to inspire one another. Some people literally cried tears at our closing program because we will miss one another.”

Saah is working part-time this fall in Ann Arbor. When he begins U-M classes in January, “I will continue in one of the labs.”