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Tayyaba Toseef

College: Hunter College
Awards: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2013

Seeking a Cure for MS

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerves is destroyed, which severely limits normal nerve function and causes cognitive and motor defects. Myelin is like the insulation surrounding electric wires; if it’s destroyed, the wires can’t function properly.

Tayyaba Toseef, a master’s student at Hunter College, is pursuing basic science research that could point the way toward therapies that may reverse the degenerative process in MS patients and regrow the myelin that their central nervous systems have lost.

The National Science Foundation has awarded her a three-year, $126,000 Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue this research. It is considered the most prestigious grant for graduate students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Toseef’s NSF research proposal aims for a better understanding of how oligodendrocytes – cells that myelinate neurons (that is, put the insulation on nerves) in the central nervous system – function over the course of brain development. Her goal is to knock out a key gene that governs formation of oligodendrocytes and then compare myelination in normal mice and those missing the gene.

Working under the mentorship of Hunter assistant professor Carmen Melendez-Vasquez, Toseef is enthusiastic to start this new project.

“If we can identify the molecular mechanisms involved in nerve myelination, we can manipulate them to occur in adulthood and induce remyelination in conditions where myelin is depleted,” she says.

She began elementary school in her native Pakistan and then in Saudi Arabia. Her family moved to Delaware when she was in fifth grade, and she lived there until earning her bachelor’s degree in biology from Delaware State University in 2011.

Toseef has previously worked on two other projects studying brain development. As an undergraduate, she was a research assistant studying the role of progesterone receptors during development of a rat hindbrain structure.

She also received a post-baccalaureate fellowship to do clinical research in the Rehabilitation Medicine Department at the National Institutes of Health. Interested in seeing firsthand the application of basic science research in a clinical setting, she got involved in several projects. In one, she analyzed muscle strength and function in therapy protocol for post-operative breast cancer patients.

“I enjoyed working at NIH and in clinical biology, but my primary passion was always basic science research,” she says. “Hunter College seemed a good fit.”

Toseef hopes to enter a Ph.D. program to pursue a career in academic research. In addition to lab and coursework, she is involved in several volunteer activities in the scientific community, such as conducting classroom demonstrations of neuroscience topics for fifth graders in Harlem Central Middle School.