About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services?
Essay response by Paul Gonzalez-Enriquez
As mentioned in my introduction I worked as a CNA for a little over a year doing mostly home care. During that time I found that a disproportionate amount of the patients that need my assistance were suffering from multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that targets the central nervous system. I believe that I can find a way to stop MS and improve the quality of life for numerous people.
My major at the moment is bio-chemistry, however, my major is not very descriptive of what I wish to study. I have been looking into a field of research called epigenetics, which I believe is key to curing and preventing truly horrible diseases, such as MS. Epigenetics is a study that focuses on the use of chemical reactions to alter DNA expression in cells. You see the only difference between the cells of one organ and another is the section of our DNA that is expressed. This expression comes from methyl groups that attach to the cytosine or adenine, two of the four nucleotides that make up our DNA, this process which is called methylation takes place as cells divide and differentiate causing them to become specialized, meaning they express only a particular set of it’s DNA. The differentiation of cells through methylation is typically a one way road, so once a cells changes from a stem cell into a somatic cell it can’t revert, at least not without outside intervention. This is where epigenetics really comes into play, we can take any kind of somatic cell and strip the DNA of the methyl groups reverting the cell back to a stem cell, effectively eliminating the controversy of the use of stem cells in medicine and opening limitless new practices for fighting disease. (Any information provide can be found at the university of Utah’s health science division)
Multiple sclerosis affects the myelin sheaths that deteriorates which causes the neurons to be damaged, which doesn’t allow for electrical signals to pass properly which makes the patients various organ system have difficulty communicating. When the neurons are damaged enough they can cause partial paralysis in the patients that can progressively get worse, traveling to other organ systems. Many of the people I worked with suffered from MS making their day to day lives excessively difficult. I found that people with MS felt a sense of dread knowing that their disease is slowly spreading and will one day cause them to be completely paralyzed and eventually kill them as the paralysis reaches their lungs. I found that many of them would sort of just give up on life becoming depressed, some took to drinking in order to deal with their fate. That is the hardest part of being a CNA, when your patient just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it to try and do anything for themselves. They begin neglecting themselves which only makes their disease progress quicker. It’s hard for a home care worker to really deal with this because it’s not just the disease that’s making things harder it’s the person. The key is to find something that drives them or gives them hope. Of course with no real chance for a future it’s difficult to find something that might motivate them. Luckily with epigenetics it just might possible to repair the neuron damage and provide people with MS a chance to get better.
With epigenetics we can revert a somatic cells back to stem cells which we can then purposely methylate specific sections of DNA to have them develop into any type of cell. So with this process we can regenerate the lost neuron and myelin sheath allowing for the signals to pass properly giving back the mobility that MS took from the patients. This is how my major can help the home care service industry, by providing the patients hope for a better future. My interests in epigenetics can and will change not only the home care service industry but the entire world of medicine.
Paul aspires to attend an MD-PhD program in order to change the world.