Where Are They Now?

Educational Clairvoyance and Parkinson’s Disease

Vincent Nguyen

Vincent Nguyen, scholar/scientist

Vincent Nguyen has a gift. He can truly envision his future. He does not doubt. He trusts that with diligence his vision will come to pass. For this magna cum laude Collin College graduate, it is almost as if he has already walked his path in life.

Though he works very hard, he will tell you that many, many people have helped him get to where he is today, including Collin College professors, Columbia University professors and now Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists.

"I was very fortunate to have a chance to study specifically at Collin College. As a student, you should learn—not to get into medical or pharmacy school—but learn for life knowledge. At Collin, I imagined myself as a physicist and asked Dr. Sherman about space elevators. I thought of myself as a biotechnology researcher when I attended Dr. Kirkpatrick's class and questioned how I would complete a polymerase reaction. This college has a lot of impact on students. You develop a thinking discipline," Nguyen said.

Nguyen did not have difficulty transitioning from Collin College to Columbia University. He felt very academically prepared.

"At Collin, I took Dr. Jury's Organic Chemistry I class, and I came to Columbia and took Dr. Snyder's Organic Chemistry II class. The learning and the mindset are the same. We even used one of the same organic chemistry textbooks at Columbia that was used at Collin."

Nguyen is a senior in the Columbia General Studies program and plans to graduate in May 2012. When his mentor told him about the MIT Summer Research Program he knew how he wanted to spend his vacation. True to form, Nguyen was one of approximately 45 students selected to attend the research program.

"I had to read five-inch-thick books on each lab technique. Every week, we had a group meeting with graduate students from Harvard, MIT and invited guests from universities like Stanford. Each of us gave presentations on the progress in our research while others asked questions. It was a life-changing experience. It gave me a sense of accomplishment."

While at MIT, Nguyen exchanged greetings with robots, learned about a future propulsion system for satellites, mixed two tons of concrete to help build a playground for children in Cambridge, and, most importantly, imagined himself as a scientist. He worked from 6 a.m.-12 a.m. in this research program, which emphasized community, academics and research. Nguyen worked closely with the MIT Office of the Dean for Graduate Education. His principle investigator was Collin M. Stultz, M.D., Ph.D. in the Research Laboratory of Electronics and Computational Biophysics. His research topic was "Biophysical Characterization of the Intrinsically Disordered Protein α-Synuclein with Point Mutation A53T."

Essentially, he worked on a mutated protein which is associated with Parkinson's disease. He performed several procedures and tests to grow, analyze and learn how the mutation affects the behavior of the protein. He began to explore a possible correlation between protein aggregation and patients losing physical function.

"This is pioneer work. There is not very much biophysical information on this protein."

Nguyen imagines a world in which he accomplishes his ultimate goal of giving back to society. He sees a brighter future based on a foundation of shared knowledge. Currently, he is picturing himself entering medical school and earning a Harvard MBA and a doctoral degree at MIT. Only he knows for sure what his future will hold. But one thing is certain. "Collin is still my beloved college," Nguyen said.