Andrew Ortiz is brimming with statistics. He's a doctoral student in UNLV’s newly formed interdisciplinary neuroscience Ph.D. program in the Graduate College and can spout off some daunting figures with ease:
“By 2050, one in every three seniors will die from dementia-related illnesses.” And: “More than 120 million Americans, a third of the population, have prediabetes or diabetes.”
What do these baffling statistics about seemingly disparate diseases have in common? Ortiz’s research holds the answer: “Individuals with Type II diabetes are up to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.
Ortiz researches the connections between these two diseases. Ortiz emphasizes how important this work is, especially given the United States’ rapidly aging population. He states, “It is crucial to investigate and understand the mechanisms between these two devastating modalities for early preventative measures and development of therapeutics.”
Ortiz recently presented this research at the Rebel Grad Slam, the Graduate College’s annual competition where students are allowed three minutes and one PowerPoint slide to present their research. Ortiz placed second overall for his presentation, “The Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Type II Diabetes.”
Ortiz’s academic journey started when he first set foot on UNLV’s campus as an undergraduate, where he completed a bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in neuroscience. When it came time to choose a postgraduate institution, the choice was easy for Ortiz.
“After completing my bachelor’s degree at UNLV, I decided to stay and work under Dr. Jefferson Kinney given that his research aligns with what I am interested in studying,” Ortiz says. “Furthermore, the faculty in the Department of Brain Health are extremely talented and are all involved in vigorous and important research, prompting me to want to be part of the team.”
In addition, Ortiz credits his passion for neuroscience to Dr. Arnold Salazar, a research scientist from UNLV’s Cellular and Molecular Brain Research Laboratory. The laboratory is a place Ortiz misses dearly, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many scientists to conduct research alone and outside of the lab.
“As most of us are experiencing, the pandemic has presented several challenges,” Ortiz notes. “For example, my team of research assistants are not allowed to work in the laboratory, thus requiring me to do all project-related research on my own.” However, Ortiz says this experience has instilled in him what he sees as the greatest trait a researcher can have: “to be able to quickly adapt when things take a different turn than expected.”
Although many years have elapsed between Ortiz’s undergraduate studies to his current status as a doctoral student, his love for UNLV has never faded. “My experience here at UNLV has been outstanding!” Ortiz says. “My favorite thing about UNLV is the overall diversity of the students and faculty.”
Ortiz gives back to the UNLV community through his active participation in organizations such as the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and the Graduate College’s Research & Mentorship Program. Additionally, he has served as a committee member for an undergraduate thesis project from an Honors College student.
Looking toward the future, Ortiz sees himself continuing with his research with the hopes that it can help lower the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s. Ortiz says, “My end academic career goal is to strive to secure a faculty position at an institution, where I will continue to focus on the detrimental effects of impaired energy metabolism in relation to the brain.”
More than just a compendium of mind-boggling statistics, Ortiz realizes the real-world impact of his research and plans to use it to help others.