A challenging and rewarding program, the Boston University School of Medicine MD/PhD Combined Degree program produces exceptional physicians and researchers. Though only halfway through his time here, Andrew Ferree is no exception. An addict to research, Andrew has traveled internationally to present his scientific findings, and continues to investigate new ways to improve BUMC’s sustainability efforts here in Boston.
What made you decide to pursue both a MD and PhD in BU’s combined degree program?
You could say I have an addiction to research. I have spent the past ten years researching Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and I can’t stop. I initially earned a Master of Arts in Medical Sciences here at BUSM, working with Dr. Benjamin Wolozin in Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics on my thesis and various other projects. I knew I wanted to continue with research, but also wanted to experience the clinical side of medicine and see my research applied to people. When I was accepted into the MD/PhD program, it seemed like the most obvious choice for me because it combined the lab and the clinic.
What PhD program are you in here at BU?
I am completing my graduate research through the Department of Pharmacology but I also work extensively with the Departments of Neuroscience and Medicine.
I understand you will be defending your dissertation soon. What research have you been involved with?
My research has always been related to neurodegeneration. To date, most of my research at BU has been focused on studying the function of genes that are linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. I will never lose interest in PD and AD, but I am broadening my horizons and beginning to be lured into the study of how mitochondria play a role in diabetes and peripheral neuropathies. Ultimately, I want to help cure these diseases.
You recently attended a conference in Sardinia. What was that experience like?
Blissful would not be an exaggeration. The conference was absolutely sublime; it was relatively small and packed with very prominent researchers in mitochondrial biology. I presented some recent data from experiments on a new potential therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease. I tested how the drugs effect mitochondrial transport and function in hippocampal neurons. At the mitochondrial dynamics conference, I made some great contacts and got a lot of helpful feedback, encouraging comments, and new ideas. I would like to extend a very warm and appreciative thank you to all those that helped me with the travel expenses.
What have you found to be the most challenging part of your academic career as a MD/PhD student here at BU?
The MD years and the PhD years are very different from each other. Medical school is an inch deep and a mile wide; you learn lots of information across many areas. With research, the focus is narrow, and you try to learn everything there is to know about one topic. The learning approaches are very different as well. Medical school requires memorization and the retention of a lot of information to succeed. In research, the real value is placed on imagination and creativity.
Are you involved in other activities outside of research?
I spend a lot of time with my family, especially my son, Thomas, who will be turning two in February. They keep me laughing on the rough days and offer a lot of support. For the past few years, I have been very active in various sustainability projects here at BUMC. One quick plug, if anyone would like to join us in these efforts check out our website to get involved (www.bu.edu/sustainability/)! When time permits, I also enjoy playing a good game of basketball and teaching self-defense classes in Michael Galperin’s School of Combat Sambo.
What are your future plans/goals?
The best part about the MD/PhD program is that it allows you to explore your options by giving exposure to both the clinic and the lab. I am still not sure where my path will take me but I do know I will never escape the brain. If I practice medicine, I plan to specialize in neurology and focus on treating age related neurodegenerative diseases. It seems unlikely that I will be able to kick my addiction to research so that will definitely be part of the picture.
Do you have any advice for current GMS students?
Pay attention to what truly interests you and pursue it. If you find that the passion fades, then do not feel obliged to follow the current course just because you started it. If you enjoy what you are doing, then it is probably a good fit for you. Beyond that I would like to say something corny, such as, believe in yourself and in your efforts. Your hard work will pay off though sometimes not the way you expect.