Scientists are making inroads because thousands of people with Parkinson’s and their family members have donated their brains to science, including to PDF-supported programs at Columbia University Medical Center and Rush University Medical Center.
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Christina Vaughan, M.D.
Christina Vaughan, M.D., M.H.S., has come full circle as a member of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) team. In her current role as an advisor to the PDF HelpLine, Dr. Vaughan — a post-doctoral Fellow in movement disorders at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago — helps to answer unusual and difficult questions about Parkinson’s disease (PD) and keeps our staff updated on new developments in research and care.
But when Dr. Vaughan first came to PDF nine years ago, it was as an applicant for one of our Summer Student Fellowships. This program funds students at several levels, from advanced undergraduates to graduate and medical students, to pursue Parkinson’s-related summer research projects under the guidance of leaders in the field.
Dr. Vaughan already had a personal interest in Parkinson’s, having seen several of her loved ones live with the disease. But she was unsure at that time as to what form her career would take. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, she went on to complete a master’s degree in Health Science at Johns Hopkins University, where her focus was on mental health, aging and neurodegenerative disease.
Her office-mate, a Parkinson’s nurse specialist named Lisette Bunting-Perry, Ph.D., suggested that Dr. Vaughan apply for the PDF grant to take advantage of an opening at the University of Pennsylvania Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, in Philadelphia, PA, on a study looking at the long-term effects of deep brain stimulation (DBS). (Dr. Bunting-Perry, a leader in nursing education, recently helped to develop an online nursing course in Parkinson’s, offered by PDF in collaboration with other PD organizations.)
Dr. Vaughan was accepted and spent the summer of 2002 examining people living with Parkinson’s who had undergone DBS, and interviewing them about their post-surgery experience. During her time at Penn, she worked with several leaders in the Parkinson’s field, including her mentor Andrew D. Siderowf, M.D., whose latest study on cognitive testing for Parkinson’s was published on the PDF website just a few months ago.
And where did Dr. Vaughan end up? She maintained the focus on mental health that she began while at Hopkins, but is now combining this expertise with her knowledge of PD. Following the completion of her medical degree and a residency in neurology at the University of Pittsburgh, she moved to Rush (which is one of PDF’s research centers), where she is training to be a Parkinson’s specialist with a special interest in the mental health of people with Parkinson’s.
As PDF Scientific Director Stanley Fahn, M.D., noted last year, “We need to be sure that the best talent is attracted to the challenge of solving Parkinson’s and helping those who live with it.” With doctors like Dr. Vaughan on board, we are hopeful for the future.
Dr. Vaughan still remembers her PDF summer fellowship. She says it, “opened up opportunities to work with some of the best Parkinson’s researchers and to have a very meaningful clinical experience with people living with Parkinson’s.” She also noted that “while my plan to pursue neurology and movement disorders was first inspired by my family members with Parkinson’s, this fellowship definitely helped to strengthen that plan.”
Dr. Vaughan’s 2002 fellowship was supported by PDF’s Summer Student Fellowships program, which in 2010 supported 15 individuals with $45,000 in funding. PDF’s grant to Rush University in 2010 totaled over $300,000.