Researching Parkinson’s disease in beautiful Lausanne this summer

Smitha Sarma
Major: Biological Sciences
Minor: Global Health, Psychology
Location this summer: Lausanne, Switzerland




I work in the SV building at EPFL. SV = Sciences de la Vie.

My name is Smitha Sarma and I am a rising junior majoring in Biological Sciences with minors in Global Health and Psychology. As an aspiring doctor, I am interested in understanding the scientific process behind the generation of therapies. This summer, I am conducting research on gene therapies for Parkinson’s disease in the laboratory of Professor Patrick Aebischer at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the elderly. Patients experience motor defects such as tremors, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. These symptoms occur because dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra – a region in the midbrain – begin to die off. My project investigates the proteins linked to neuronal death and the proteins that could potentially delay or reverse the disease progression. We utilize rat models of PD and neuroblastoma cells to carry out our experiments.

While my research is exciting, the location of my research experience is equally awesome. EPFL is located in Lausanne, an urban city nestled on the shores of Lac Léman in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, just a short train ride away from Geneva. Switzerland comes alive during this time of year; the Swiss take advantage of their beautiful summer weather (which always lingers around 70 degrees) by spending their free time outdoors. July and August are a great time of year to visit the land of chocolate and cheese. There are music festivals along the lakefront in nearly every city, and there are unlimited destinations to go hiking in the Alps.

My friends and I frequently spend our evenings on the beaches of Lac Léman, also known as Lake Geneva. The lake is the border between Switzerland and France.

My friends and I often meet up after work and go swimming in the lake, have potlucks on the apartment terrace, or venture into the city. On the weekends, we take trains to other cities and do touristy things like visiting castles and admiring yet another lake. The transportation system in Switzerland is a work of art. Trains arrive exactly on time every time, and the rides are always exciting, because the tracks follow the perimeter of the lakes and vineyards, and offer beautiful views of the mountains. And every major city is positioned right next to a lake, and great care is taken to ensure that the public can enjoy the lakefront. There are parks and beaches all over the place, and colorful flowers planted along cobblestone pathways as far as the eye can see. What better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than to grab a Mövenpick ice cream cone (Swiss dairy products are so rich and creamy) and take a stroll along the lake?

I will be blogging more about my research and about my travels around Switzerland, so stay tuned!

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