HoustonPBS UH Moment: Undergraduate Tackling Complex Alzheimer's Research


When you think of Alzheimer’s Disease, it generally conjures images of an aging population. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a vast majority of Alzheimer’s cases involve people 65 years of age and older. But Alzheimer’s is not a part of the normal aging process, nor is there a cure for it. Research continues by scientists worldwide – to treat it, delay and prevent it.

One of those researchers is getting an early start. Jon Casey Berridge won’t complete his undergraduate degree at the University of Houston until December 2012, but for more than a year he’s investigated the neurons of Alzheimer’s afflicted brains to find out the impact they have on cell signaling.

“We are pretty much looking at the overall causes of Alzheimer’s itself,” said Berridge, a biology student working in the lab of UH College of Pharmacy professor Jason Eriksen. “We are trying to find or identify novel discoveries. There are all kinds of things appearing all the time. Alzheimer’s is a very complicated disease.”

Berridge started out his collegiate career as a music major, but quickly became passionate about research. Even he was surprised at how much hands-on experience he would get so early in his career, calling it “pretty unique in the undergraduate spectrum.”

“You usually do busy work in the lab if you are an undergraduate in a research environment,” said Berridge, who plans to pursue a career in research. That was not the case for him at the University of Houston.

In 2011, Berridge took part in the prestigious Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). SURF is an intense fulltime, 10-week research program awarded to UH undergraduate students who are paired with faculty mentors. Under the direction of Eriksen, who is conducting research funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, Berridge began looking at the cells of brains with Alzheimer’s. He now works in the lab as an assistant.

“As for treatment options to Alzheimer’s, they are few and far between. The more we understand it on a cellular level the more we can be able to treat it,” said Berridge.

If Alzheimer’s is not a disease that concerns most college students, perhaps it should.  The Alzheimer’s Association reports that another American develops Alzheimer’s disease every 69 seconds. But by 2050 it will be every 33 seconds, making the work of all Alzheimer’s researchers imperative.

While Berridge concedes he may not make a world-changing discovery himself, he’s proud to be a part of the effort to find new treatments and preventions. 

“Nobody ever just comes up with a huge innovation out of nowhere. It is very, very rare that ever happens,” said Berridge. “This is everybody working slowly towards something. It takes a congress of people working together.”