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MD/PhD student approaches Alzheimer’s disease through gut microbiome research

By Kaylee Pugliese and Hallie Leo

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

January 23, 2023

Ethan Loew’s passion for problem-solving and his family’s background working on Italian olive farms inspire his academic pursuits as an MD/PhD student at UMass Chan Medical School and fuel his desire to give back through mentorship.

After majoring in chemistry at Union College, Loew was torn between practicing bench science or becoming a clinician. His experience working as a lab technician at Harvard while volunteering in a hospital showed him how he could combine the two.

“When I was seeing patients in the hospital, we’d brush up against the limits of what medicine and medical technology could offer,” said Loew. “At the same time, I was working in the lab and seeing bright researchers and graduate students addressing these limitations. I saw myself working at that interface between medical science and seeing patients to deliver new technologies to folks looking for new hope.”

Working with Beth A. McCormick, PhD, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair II, vice chair and professor and of microbiology & physiological systems and director of the Program in Microbiome Dynamics; and John P. Haran, MD, PhD, associate professor of emergency medicine and microbiology & physiological systems and clinical director of the UMass Center for Microbiome Research at UMass Chan, Loew approaches Alzheimer’s disease from the gut.

“We’re looking at a cohort of older adult volunteers to see how their cognitive symptoms change over a period of time alongside changes in their microbiome, which encompasses all the bacteria and viruses that live in our guts, to understand how these bacteria and viruses might be leading to curb impairment as we age,” Loew said.

Loew grew up in Attleboro and finds a connection between his knack for tactile activities and his family’s history working on Italian olive farms.

“My mother and her parents immigrated from Italy. They grew up in a poor community working on olive farms making olive oil and tobacco. This stuck with me as part of my personality because I really like hands-on things. I like working with cars. I like to build things. It also translates to my research, focusing on aspects of medicine that are more procedural.”  

Loew mentors students in the UMass Chan Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program, which prepares underrepresented students for the med school application process, and serves on the UMass Chan admissions committee.

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

Related stories on UMass Chan News:
Beth McCormick, John Haran explore link between microbiome and Alzheimer’s disease