A Multiple Sclerosis Breakthrough

Hannah Salapa ’14, and her Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Michael Levin, have formed a successful research partnership that led to an important discovery with the potential to benefit patients with multiple sclerosis. 

Salapa, Levin, and three of their colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan were the first research team to identify that stress granules found in nerve cells of multiple sclerosis (MS) brains may contribute to patients’ permanent disability by damaging nerves through inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Their findings were published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology and presented at an international conference in Australia. Read more about the research results here.

Salapa, who earned a psychobiology degree at LVC, began working with Levin at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She rotated through multiple labs and professors before ultimately settling on the MS research for personal reasons.

“I think a lot of people who go into research typically do so because someone close to them was affected by a disease,” Salapa said. “My story is similar. I wanted to study neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and MS, because of my family members who were and are affected by these diseases. 

“Once you join a lab, you start to fully understand the research goals and develop your project based on the overall goals. I developed a niche research project that has since escalated into one of the main themes of our lab,” she said.

As Salapa became more committed to the project, Levin accepted a new position as the MS Clinical Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan. She decided to follow him and transferred to finish her degree and continue her research. She successfully defended her thesis in June and will receive her doctorate in anatomy and cell biology in November.

Salapa emphasizes the importance of undergraduate experiences to develop the knowledge and skills needed for graduate school and a career in research.

“One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to get experience during undergrad,” said Salapa. “Find a professor who’s involved in interesting research, and start a conversation with them. Work hard to learn as many techniques as you can. Try to get a publication or two from these experiences to set yourself apart when you’re applying to graduate school.” 

At Saskatchewan, Salapa agreed to complete another year as a science research associate with Levin. 

“I want to help finish and transition the projects I’ve started and build the lab to take on more undergraduate and graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows. I enjoy mentoring students, including my three current undergraduates and one master’s student.”

After the year is complete, Salapa plans to move back to the United States to work in research and development for a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company. 


- Faith Ishler, Marketing & Communications Intern