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Jonathan Grima: Paul Ehrlich Award

[Dr. Rothstein's] mentorship, along with the guidance of my exceptional thesis committee members Drs. Solomon Snyder, Christopher Ross, Seth Blackshaw, Michael Matunis, and Philip Wong, and the collaborative environment at Hopkins, have all helped to stimulate my intellectual curiosity and provide me with excellent training to help me become the principal investigator I aspire to be.

Jonathan Grima

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Mentor: Jeffrey D. Rothstein

Project Details

Generally speaking, we have discovered that traffic jams occur in the brain cells of people with Huntington’s disease, which is the most common inherited neurodegenerative disorder. These traffic jams disrupt the flow of critical information between the brain cell’s control center (the nucleus)  and the surrounding area (the cytoplasm), which appears to be a direct cause of brain cell death in Huntington’s disease and potentially other neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and dementia. Moreover, we show that drugs designed to clear up these traffic jams can restore normal transport in and out of the nucleus and prevent these brain cells from dying. This is the first study to implicate defects in this particular pathway in Huntington’s disease and provides future novel therapy targets. 

Learn more about Dr. Rothstein's Brain Science Institute.

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I am a huge history buff and was always well aware of the fact that a plethora of significant findings, which greatly impact the world today, have come right out of Hopkins. For instance, the only FDA-approved drug for ALS was developed from work done by my mentor, Dr. Jeffrey D. Rothstein. Additionally, the identification of receptors for neurotransmitters and drugs and elucidation of the actions of psychotropic agents has produced many advances in molecular neuroscience and this was work performed by another adviser of mine, Dr. Solomon H. Snyder. These are extraordinary scientists who are making our world better each and every day and improving the lives of many individuals. I wanted to be a part of this and follow in the footsteps of my science heroes.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

Upon entering the program a little less than four years ago, I knew that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my many scientific heroes here at Hopkins such as Drs. Jeffrey Rothstein, Solomon Snyder and Ted Dawson. I hope to make them proud! 

What contributed to your project's success?

Dr. Jeffrey D. Rothstein is a phenomenal mentor who truly cares about my success and the success of others in his team. Dr. Rothstein is enthusiastic, optimistic, focused and extremely knowledgeable. His dedication to his roles as a professor, clinician and primary investigator are exceptional, as he always finds time to answer my questions and help guide me in the right direction to meet my desired goals. Taken together, he is the scientific and personal role model that I aspire to be. His mentorship, along with the guidance of my exceptional thesis committee members Drs. Solomon Snyder, Christopher Ross, Seth Blackshaw, Michael Matunis, and Philip Wong, and the collaborative environment at Hopkins, have all helped to stimulate my intellectual curiosity and provide me with excellent training to help me become the principal investigator I aspire to be.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

In the future, I would love to pursue faculty positions and continue my work studying basic molecular mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration with the hopes of developing disease-altering treatments. I hope to make a difference and make my parents and many mentors, advisers and friends at Hopkins proud. It takes a village to raise a child and I am a product of all of these wonderful individuals who have helped me so much along the way. 

What are your hobbies or interests?

My parents migrated from the tiny island country of Malta to New York City with many dreams and ambitions but little money or education. More than anything, they wanted their children to have the best schooling possible, to give us the opportunities they never had. Their lessons not only formed the foundation of my effectiveness at the bench and in the classroom; they ignited my desire to make the world a better place, a desire I ultimately came to see as linked with my love of neuroscience.