May 17, 2006

Fulbright news brings on sleepless night for Choi

Too excited to rest, Case graduating senior is going to Oxford University

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Tired from spending all day studying for finals, Raymond Choi, a graduating senior from Case Western Reserve University, said he needed sleep but knew a rent notice might be in the mail.

Checking his mail, the chemistry major from Holland, Ohio, got some news of his lifetime. He opened a letter, awarding him a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Oxford University next year.

"I couldn't even fall asleep," he said, exclaiming, "I felt completely surprised and very elated at the prospects of studying at such a historical institution."

Choi, who is the son of Chak Bun and Kam Sheung Choi, is among the 10 recipients to receive a Fulbright Scholarship from 495 applicants interested in research opportunities in the United Kingdom.

This honor follows his recent honor of being named to the 2006 All-USA College Academic Team (honorable mention), sponsored by the national newspaper, USA Today.

At Oxford, Choi will hone his research skills in the pharmacology lab of Dr. David Smith, who has been doing research for the past 20 years related to hormone regulation, cell cycle proteins and chemical and genetic markers of B vitamin status in dementia. The chemical markers that Smith studies, Choi said, have been implicated with cardiovascular disease, but have yet to be connected with Alzheimer's disease.

Smith has founded OPTIMA, a research institute that involves five departments and a hospital that provides quality care to thousands of Alzheimer's patients.

Choi, who hopes to have a career in medicine, plans to observe how Smith has set up this institute and build connections with British researchers. He said someday he would like to establish a similar institute that combines clinical and basic science research.

Choi's interest in AD dates to his community service as a high school volunteer at the Wolf Creek nursing home.

"Volunteering made me realize that I could alleviate the pain and suffering for the elderly, but never solve problems that affected both the elderly and their loved ones," he said. "I could not imagine what it would be like if my parents no longer remembered me."

Not only does he hope his year in England will help lead to a better way of diagnosing Alzheimer's, but he also wants to understand how cultural differences can play a role in the disease.

Choi will be able to observe AD treatment under the UK's nationalized healthcare system.

"Being raised by my grandparents (Sauyue Eng Ma, his grandmother, and Cheung Hong Ma, his grandfather), I have already noticed differences in how elderly are treated," he said. "In the Chinese culture, to send one's parents or grandparents (to a nursing home) would be considered a sin, but family members of the elderly, especially those with Alzheimer's, struggle to care for their loved ones."

He plans to use techniques like organic spectroscopy that he learned from Dr. Michael Zagorski, Case Professor of Chemistry, and use them in Smith's lab. Choi will also call upon skills he learned over three years, working in the Case lab of Dr. Mark Smith, professor of pathology.

According to Choi, Smith's research is focused on unraveling the factors that can alter or prevent Alzheimer's disease. He follows AD patients from early onset of the disease through their death, collecting cerebral spinal fluid and brain tissues for study with advanced spectroscopy and molecular biology techniques.

"As a result, Dr. David Smith is able to draw clinical and behavioral correlations between these Alzheimer's patients and their pathological and molecular hallmarks," said Choi.

In addition to the research collaborations Choi hopes to forge, he said that one of the most amazing things about the Fulbright is "the informal discussions and dinners with important scientists, political figures and religious leaders."

"I will have the opportunity to discuss the most pressing issues in the UK and in the world with those who are intimately involved in the decision-making process," he said.

While Choi will not earn a degree during his year in England, he will have the opportunity to apply for special grants that will enable him to pursue his masters or doctor of philosophy degrees if he desires to continue his studies at Oxford.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, May 17, 2006 11:49 AM | News Topics: College of Arts and Sciences, HeadlinesMain

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