Sydney Vaughan, a doctoral student in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program, was first author on a recently published research paper in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, a leading peer-reviewed scientific journal on advances in neuroscience. Mentored by Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute assistant professor Gregorio Valdez, Vaughan is the first student in the graduate program’s first year to have first authorship in an original scientific research paper.

The journal article summarizes research conducted in the Valdez laboratory on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Valdez and Vaughan found that, in mice with the genetic mutation that causes ALS, some nerve endings exhibit pathological markers before neurological symptoms begin to appear. The finding offers a possible new path for testing new ALS treatments – an especially important task, as no treatments currently exist.

“It’s exciting to publish this paper because it’s my first one, and being the first Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health student to publish is just the cherry on top,” Vaughan said. “Students in the program are hard workers, and this is just the first of many papers to come from our cohort.”

Vaughan, who grew up in Roanoke County, plans to continue researching ALS in the Valdez laboratory as a second-year student.

“Sydney’s contribution to this original research exemplifies the mission of this new graduate program,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and co-director of the program. “This study is a wonderful example of original fundamental laboratory-based translational biological research that also offers insights – and potential new applications – for the practice of medicine and improved health.”

Friedlander also pointed out a key difference in Virginia Tech’s new doctoral program is the focus on students conducting research through all the steps instead of contributing for a limited time.

“It’s a great experience for a relatively new graduate student to take a project all the way through from experiments to data collection and analysis to manuscript writing in such a short period, while also successfully working on first year courses and exams,” Friedlander said.