Finding a Cure for Her Own Disease

Finding a Cure for Her Own Disease

UNT Diving Eagle
May 11, 2020

By Amy Brundeen

UNT senior Allison Taylor could have let a medical condition slow down her academic plans or even her life in general, but instead, she’s using it as inspiration to reach her goals. Diagnosed at 18 with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, commonly known as CMT, she has dedicated her life to researching a cure.

The most frequently inherited peripheral neuropathy disease, CMT leads to muscular and sensory degeneration. Her grandfather died from it, and the disease also affects her mother and her two sisters.

“I am fortunate enough to have a mild enough case to be able-bodied,” Taylor says. “But it will get worse. CMT is associated with neurological pain and a slow, degeneration of abilities.”

Beginning her career at UNT as a biology major, she planned to become a genetic counselor to help people find diagnoses.

Things started to change, however, when early in her college career, Taylor began to fall in love with research. She took part in the UNT PHAGES program as a freshman and then, encouraged by honors college professor Tom Miles, participated in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates the next summer. At Mississippi State University that summer, she studied the evolution of gap junction beta proteins. When these proteins malfunction, it leads to CMT.

Back at UNT during her junior year, she approached her neuroscience professor Jannon Fuchs about working in her lab to continue research into the mechanisms behind CMT. Soon Allison joined Fuchs' research group and began the work for her honors thesis, which she completed in November 2019. Her research centered around Schwann Cells and their role in CMT.

“Schwann Cells support nerve regeneration of the peripheral nervous system and are the coolest cells in the human body,” Allison says adding that she hopes her research in understanding their role in CMT could one day lead to the development of gene therapy for the disease.

Searching for more research opportunities, during her junior year Taylor went to visit James Duban, Honors College associate dean for research and national scholarships. Until that point, she hadn’t really considered a Ph.D. or a career as a research scientist.

“I wanted to talk about summer research opportunities — to see what else was out there. I said I wanted to get my masters in genetic counseling,” Taylor explains. “He said, 'Go and get your doctorate. You came in here to talk about summer research, but wouldn’t it be nice to do that all the time?’”

The conversation with Duban made her think seriously about becoming a neuroscientist, and she began applying for Ph.D. programs in neuroscience.

“Genetic counseling would be an interesting career, but I have an aptitude for research,” Taylor says. “It is where I can be most useful. I like that it is multi-faceted as well. I would love to be a professor. I come from a family of teachers. I have so much respect for that profession. I think they impact lives infinitely more than we’ll ever be able to define.”

While CMT has sidelined Taylor from marching band and running, she doesn’t exactly stay off her feet. In addition to being a full-time student and working in the Fuchs’ laboratory, she worked 20 hours a week in a local restaurant. Add to that, she spent a year writing her honors thesis and applying to graduate school. She recently graduated magna cum laude with a 3.99 grade point average as a Distinguished Honors Scholar.

Allison’s academic and professional goal is to become an expert on her own disorder. She believes that her research is only a piece of an eventual cure. She has accepted a postbaccalaureate research position at the University of California at Davis, which is scheduled to begin in June.

“It would be super cool if my work led to a cure,” Allison says. “I want to live my life in a way that inspires others to do good things.”