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NHGRI Research Fellow Wins Marshall Scholarship

By Judith Wyatt

When Yong Suh decided he wanted to study the theoretical pathways linking Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease rather than begin an M.D./Ph.D. program, he knew the scientist with whom he wanted to work and the university he wanted to attend. All he needed was the funding.

So, this research fellow in Dr. Francis Collins' lab at NHGRI, who has won more than 20 merit scholarships — including the National Merit Scholarship, the Goldwater Scholarship and the Medical Science Training Program Scholarship (M.D./Ph.D.) — looked to the British Marshall Scholarships, a $50,000, 2-year award that offers 40 American students an opportunity to attend any British university.

NHGRI research fellow Yong Suh has won a Marshall scholarship to study, starting in June, at Britain's Oxford University.

Suh had found a mentor in British Royal Institution director Dr. Susan Greenfield, who makes her research home at Oxford University, plumbing the possible common etiology between Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Suh's primary objective was to work with Greenfield. Winning a Marshall scholarship could help him do just that.

"Dr. Greenfield thinks outside the box," said Suh, from Collins' lab, where he is currently involved in research on the genetics of type II diabetes. "She has novel ideas — and I thought she would be a great person to learn from."

Suh contacted Greenfield, who was interested in having him join her research. He applied for the Marshall in Atlanta through the British consulate; the paperwork went in before Thanksgiving and he won the scholarship in December.

Three months after his year at Collins' lab is over in June, Suh will join 39 other Marshall winners — who will pursue studies in philosophy and economics, development, information systems, mathematics and pharmacology — and work with Greenfield to earn a master's degree in neuropharmacology. The Marshall scholarship is one of the highest undergraduate accolades, considered equal to becoming a Rhodes scholar.

Suh's research interest was motivated by volunteer work at hospitals in his hometown of Lilburn, Ga. He discovered a love for medicine, but also wanted to understand the science behind the disease symptoms he saw.

"I saw how Alzheimer's and Parkinson's have such devastating effects on patients and families alike. It was compelling to me," explained Suh, who has already been accepted at the University of Rochester's M.D./Ph.D. program. "The hospital brought the science to life for me and made the symptoms I was seeing clear."

Suh was 16 when he began undergraduate work at the Honors College of the State University of West Georgia, majoring in chemistry and studying the biochemistry of how proteins unfold. He graduated at 20 last June and applied for an Intramural Research Training Award at NHGRI at the same time he applied for medical school. When he won the NHGRI award, he decided to postpone medical school in favor of research with Collins.

"I've had a chance to learn and contribute to this vast research involving type II diabetes," said Suh, "and conduct high throughput, genomic research.

"But I've also had the opportunity to know the man behind the scientist. Dr. Collins is a man of science, but he's also a musician and a religious man, who is very involved with his students."

Suh feels "enormously grateful" to be working at NHGRI and to have won the Marshall scholarship, which was established in 1953 as a British gesture of thanks to the United States for its assistance after World War II under the Marshall Plan.

"The Marshall scholarship also encourages fellowship among the students," said Suh. "I think that's another really important part of it — it can be the foundation of a lifetime of relationships."

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