Internship Leads to Career Ambition for Rochester Senior

Univ. Communications – Jonathan Grima is an ambitious young man. The pre-med neuroscience major is not only doing a Take 5 year in environmental economics, he also is completing a senior thesis using research from his continued work in Dr. Kim Tieu’s neuroscience lab.

Grima, originally from New York City, graduated from LaGaurdia High School, where he studied drama. He visited the University of Rochester after hearing about it from his high school mentor. Grima was struck by the willingness of students and faculty from different disciplines to sit down and work together.  “It wasn’t cut throat here and I really liked that,” he said.

His interest in drama got him thinking about the mind which led him to minor in clinical psychology. When Grima heard about the neuroscience program, which combined his interest in the mind with science, he decided to make it his major. In early 2010, after reading about the work being done at the U of R Medical Center on the neurobiology of disease, Grima became particularly interested in Dr. Tieu’s lab and emailed him expressing his interest.  “[H]e was in the process of interviewing candidates for an undergraduate position. Just my luck; I was just in time,” Grima said. “I was lucky enough to receive the position and I have been working with him ever since.”  Using his research from Dr. Tieu’s lab, Grima has been working on his thesis since May 2011.

Grima’s research focuses specifically on the treatment of Huntington’s disease, which is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder passed down through families. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Huntington’s disease comes in two forms, early-onset Huntington’s disease, which is a rare form of the disease that begins in childhood or adolescence, and adult-onset Huntington’s disease, the more common form, which typically manifests itself during a person’s mid-30s and 40s.  Physical symptoms include jerking and uncontrollable movements that become progressively more exaggerated.  Cognitive problems also worsen over time, and ultimately lead to dementia and death.

The lab in which he works is testing Dr. Tieu’s theory that by suppressing the function of a certain protein they can provide a restorative effect for individuals with Huntington’s disease.  His research focuses on two methods of suppressing the protein and treating Huntington’s disease.  One method aims to treat the condition using gene therapy, while the other method treats it through the use of drugs.  In May, Grima will present his thesis and findings to a committee gathered together by his thesis adviser and mentor, Dr. Tieu. The experience of researching treatments for the disease has been transformative for Grima. “It has given me an interest in research,” he said. “I would like to continue with it in the future if I can.”

In March he will present preliminary findings to his peers at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Utah.  Grima is one of several University of Rochester students in many disciplines to be invited to the conference.  “It should be great,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what students from other disciplines are presenting.”

After graduation in the spring, Grima plans to take a gap year to continue his research in Dr. Tieu’s lab full time.  He is currently studying for the MCAT and hopes to get into the University of Rochester Medical School where he would like to continue his research and earn an MD/PhD.  Like I said, Jonathan Grima is an ambitious young man.

Article written by Daniel Baroff, a senior at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. He is majoring in religion with a minor in Jewish studies.  His main area of study is the involvement of Jews in the American comic book industry, for which he keeps an infrequently updated blog (

In the Photo: Phillip Rappold (left), a doctoral degree student in the neuroscience graduate program, has acted as a mentor for Rochester undergrad Jonathan Grima (right) in Dr. Kim Tieu’s lab. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grima.