Melissa Strong, Maya Koike, Kara Neely and Emily Mitchell
UC Irvine graduate students (from left) Melissa Strong, Maya Koike, Kara Neely and Emily Mitchell founded ReMIND to bring together colleagues interested in memory impairments and neurological disorders. Hoang Xuan Pham / University Communications

Maya Koike’s interest in neurodegenerative disorders began in middle school when a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t getting better,” says Koike, now a UC Irvine neurobiology & behavior graduate student researcher. “These types of diseases are so devastating, and we know so little about them.”

Last fall, Koike and three colleagues formed a group called ReMIND – short for Research & Education in Memory Impairments & Neurological Disorders – for grad students seeking to better understand and cure Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases; stroke; and other neurodegenerative disorders.

The group – co-founded by Kara Neely, Emily Mitchell and Melissa Strong – has 50 members and later this year may expand to include undergraduates.

ReMIND organizers have four goals: to encourage the next generation of scientists to study neurological disorders; to educate students and the public by inviting speakers to UCI; to support the community by helping at outreach events; and to foster a collaborative research environment by sponsoring social functions.

Members have already participated in fundraising walks, led lab tours for the public, talked to undergraduate classes, and started a “journal club” to critique and learn from scientific papers.

“The labs we work in are pretty scattered throughout the medical school and central campus, so by bringing us together, this group has really created a sense of community,” Koike says.

On Tuesday, March 9, ReMIND will host its first Emerging Scientists Symposium, featuring a keynote address by Rudolph Tanzi of Harvard University. A neurology professor, he helped locate the Huntington’s disease gene and co-discovered three genes responsible for familial Alzheimer’s disease.

Frank LaFerla, director of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, or UCI MIND, says ReMIND “seeks to enfranchise young scholars and to promote education, outreach and collaboration.”

Born in Tokyo, Koike moved between Japan and the U.S. as a child, then attended college in Connecticut. She was at Stanford University and UC San Francisco before coming to UCI, where she’s about a year from earning her doctorate.

Koike studies the link between stroke and Alzheimer’s disease in LaFerla’s lab. Research indicates that people who’ve had a stroke or traumatic brain injury are more likely to develop the disease. “Determining why this happens will bring us closer to finding a cure,” she says.

She hopes to become a university professor and inspire others to enter the field. “Neurological diseases aren’t going away tomorrow,” Koike says. “The more people we have excited about fighting them, the better off we’re going to be.”