Vani Parthiban: Working for an Alzheimer’s cure
A Science Olympiad competitor in elementary school, Vani Parthiban, 17, says human anatomy and physiology have been long-time interests of hers. But not until she started volunteering at Compassionate Care Hospice in Wilmington as a freshman in high school did her exposure to Alzheimer’s patients spark an interest in pursuing a career in neurology. She aims to help find a cure for the disease.
“Witnessing the behavior of Alzheimer’s patients and the effects it had on their families made me realize not only how severe this disease can be, but also just how common it is,” says the Charter School of Wilmington student. “Millions of families across the U.S. are affected by it, and this really opened my eyes and helped me realize how important it is for each and every one of us to advocate for its cure.”
To raise awareness and money for the fight against Alzheimer’s, the Newark resident three years ago started an Alzheimer’s Club at school, probably the only such club in the state. She and its 30 members hold school bake sales and organize fundraisers at local restaurants. Parthiban also volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter, where she is a team captain and a member of the Walk Committee. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for this disease. Last October, Parthiban and 15 of her team members raised $1,545.
In three years, Parthiban has raised $3,000 for the association. Money raised goes toward care for Alzheimer’s patients, research, and further advocacy.
An Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Facts and Figures report estimates that last year 19,000 Delawareans age 65 and older had the disease. Currently more than 5 million people of all ages in the U.S. live with it, and every 65 seconds someone in this country develops Alzheimer’s. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
“To have a high school student with a vision to help find a cure is very unusual,” says Jody Trinsey, Walk manager for Delaware and South Jersey. “She understands the gravity of this disease and what we are doing.”
Last May, Parthiban received a President’s Volunteer Service Award for her work with Compassionate Care Hospice.
To help speed up Alzheimer’s research, she volunteers for an online crowdsourcing project called Stall Catchers. Scientists at Cornell University have found connections between “stalls” (clogged blood vessels in the brain) and Alzheimer’s, and through crowdsourcing projects like Stall Catchers they are collecting data about these blood clots.
Last summer, Parthiban participated in a research internship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Magnetic Resonance and Optical Imaging, where she was tasked with finding patterns in images from scans of the brains of aging subjects, many of whom had mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s.
To join Stall Catchers crowdsourcing project, visit stallcatchers.com/main
For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter, visit alz.org/delval or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.