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Alumna Emily (Mitchell) Sontag Ready to Help Uncover Biochemistry Mysteries

March 19, 2014

Emily -Sontag

Rising Star: Emily (Mitchell) Sontag, a 2005 chemistry alumna, has started a research project at Stanford University School of Medicine to understand the neurodegenerative disorders tied to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and ALS/Lou Gehrig's diseases. (Photo by Rod Searcey)

Emily (Mitchell) Sontag likes solving puzzles. So, it seems only natural that the alumna would combine her biochemistry and problem-solving skills in hopes of unlocking mysteries associated with the neurodegenerative disorders tied to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and ALS/Lou Gehrig's diseases.

Sontag’s post-graduate career has specialized in examining the aggregation of misfolded disease-related proteins, a critical element in understanding the etiology and development of potential therapies for devastating neurodegenerative disorders. The 2005 chemistry graduate recently received the National Institutes of Health’s Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Fellowship to fund a three-year research project which could lead to a greater understanding of cellular protein clearance mechanisms.

This discovery could also better inform molecular biologists on unknowns in differential protein sorting within the cell, showcase how misfolded disease-related proteins are processed, and lead to novel therapeutic targets by identifying convergence points in protein quality control pathways.

Her specialization in studying neurodegenerative disorders focused on Huntington’s Disease during her doctoral work at the University of California Irvine (2011), and has expanded to include Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementia since becoming a postdoctoral research fellow in biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine (February, 2013).

“I’m excited to get started because research in this area needs a kick-start after becoming stalled in recent years,” Sontag says. “Contributing to the understanding of diseases and furthering the progression toward therapeutics is my focus.”

Remarkably, within a decade after leaving Rose-Hulman, Sontag’s research has been featured in articles published in the Journal of Huntington’s Disease, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Neuroscience, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She has also presented her work at several international research conferences, including the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting (2008), World Congress on Huntington’s Disease (2009), and Hereditary Disease Therapeutics Conference (2012) as well as presenting for the NIH Nanomedicine Center. She will chair the 2015 International Gordon Research Seminar on Triplet Repeat Disorders in Lucca, Italy.


“A good academic foundation certainly helped, but it has taken a lot of hard work and persistence,” she says about her early career success. “Having the opportunity to perform research as an undergraduate at Rose-Hulman was definitely a huge boost. I had invaluable one-on-one experiences with my research mentor, Chemistry Professor Luanne Tilstra, PhD. Those experiences and being educated to think critically about the data gathered in the lab have been crucial throughout my postgraduate work.”