Gonzalo R. Vazquez-Jimenez, a fourth-year Chemistry major and Biology minor in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently earned distinction as coauthor of a research paper that is published in Molecular Neurobiology, a prestigious science journal.
Gonzalo cowrote the piece, “The Intersection of Parkinson’s Disease, Viral Infections, and COVID‑19,” along with Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor, Biological Sciences, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Ph.D. students Alberim Kurtishi and Benjamin Rosen also coauthored the paper, which explores the relationship and numerous similarities between Parkinson’s disease and COVID-19.
“Being published in a peer-reviewed journal while still an undergraduate student is a significant accomplishment,” said Dr. Møller.
“Gonzalo was an integral part of this research, and he contributed equally to the manuscript. Molecular Neurobiology is a well-regarded publication that is ranked number 15 among 84 peer-reviewed journals in the research category of cellular and molecular neuroscience.”
He described Gonzalo, who expects to graduate in 2023 with a Master of Science degree in Chemistry, as an “amazing student with a very bright future.”
Of his achievement, Gonzalo, a resident of Glen Cove, NY, said, “Being published in this journal is truly an honor because there are many professional researchers who spend years trying to get published but may not get the chance.”
In explaining the importance of this research, Dr. Møller said that the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease are poorly understood, with most cases sporadically occurring. The similarities between early Parkinson’s disease symptoms and progression have striking similarities with COVID-19 symptoms, including inflammation and a loss of smell.
“Dissecting the similarities between Parkinson’s disease and COVID-19 molecular events may provide insight into both diseases and reveal data points not yet discovered,” said Dr. Møller. “Some reports suggest that recovered COVID-19 patients have developed sporadic Parkinson’s disease symptoms, highlighting the importance of studying the similarities between these two very different diseases.”
Gonzalo, who wants to be a neurologist and researcher, became involved in the writing project via the position he has held since the Fall of 2019 as part of Dr. Møller’s team in the active research laboratory the Provost maintains. Alberim and Benjamin are also on the team.
“I was trained to work with tissue cultures and was given a small project to work on right before the pandemic hit,” Gonzalo said. “During the subsequent lockdown, working in the lab was no longer possible, so we decided to take advantage of the time we had available by writing a review paper that explored the connections between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease.”
As part of his research for the paper, Gonzalo studied numerous topics that included the effects of viral infections on neurotransmitter pathways, nonmotor symptoms of COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease, COVID-19 guidelines, and more.
Gonzalo, who serves as President of the Omega Phi Theta Pre-Medical Honor Society, expressed confidence that his participation in the research project and as a coauthor “will open many doors for me in the future for both my education and my profession.”
“I plan on applying to M.D./Ph.D. medical research programs, which are highly competitive and rigorous,” he explained. “Hopefully, the skills I have acquired through this experience will allow me to follow this path.”
Gonzalo joins many other undergraduate students at St. John’s who participate in research with faculty members, according to Dr. Møller. “This adds tremendously to their educational experience and allows them to take concepts from the classroom and apply them directly to a research project.”