Kevin Lewis ’17 relied on his scientific skills as the foundation for achieving a very personal goal this summer. Since a day back in 2009 that changed his life, he decided to work toward something that would benefit more than the people he knew and loved. He wanted to start the process that would someday lead to a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
“We took a summer trip to Europe right before my freshman year in high school,” Lewis recalled. “When we got home, my dad told my sister and me that he had been diagnosed with ALS.”
Typically striking people between the ages of 40 and 70, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is 100 percent fatal. About 20,000 Americans have the disease at any given time with 6,000 diagnosed every year. It strikes mostly men and about 93 percent are Caucasian. The average survival time after diagnosis is about three years.
Also known as “Lou Gehrig’s’ Disease,” ALS has received a lot of media attention in the past few years, especially through the Ice Bucket Challenge, a fundraiser that raised $220 million globally in 2014.
Looking at the “Bigger Picture”
Lewis graduated from Findlay High School in 2013. Although he had always enjoyed chemistry, he had never thought of it as leading to a career. He was a freshman at Purdue University when his father died at age 46. At that point, Kevin had some decisions to make.
“I decided to transfer to Findlay to be closer to home,” he remembered. “I also decided to major in chemistry so I could do research on ALS. I really thought I’d be about 30 before I could do serious research on my own.”
The University of Findlay prides itself on providing undergraduate research opportunities. This commitment led to funding for a Summer Scholars Program this year. The mentored program ran from May 6 through June 16 and awarded six students $2,000 each as a stipend for their research contributions. A committee selected Lewis to be one of the scholars in the program and he chose to work with Nathan Tice, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry.
“Kevin learned the process and the instrumentation,” said Tice. “That’s what undergrads need. Since medical research is not my specialty, I learned a lot as well.” Tice explained that their goal in the short, six-week time frame was to establish a baseline and see how certain reactions work in the body.
“Only one drug, riluzole, has proven effective in prolonging life with ALS because there are just so many causes,” he added. “There are a lot of question marks, but that makes research on ALS wide open. Any progress is significant.”
Lewis felt he accomplished what he set out to do in May and June, but he plans to return to the lab throughout the summer to continue his research. As for career plans he may work as an analytical chemist at a company in northwest Ohio until he decides where to continue his education.
“I don’t think it’s medical school,” he stated. “I’d rather be in a lab, working toward the big picture, something in the long term.”