Fruit flies may be mild pests to most of us, but to Sherry Aw they hold the key to understanding human neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The independent fellow at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at A*STAR researches how gene mutations that cause neurodegenerative diseases induce brain cell death, tremours, reduced lifespan and walking defects in flies. Aw is also a co-inventor on two patents, one for a method to track and analyse leg movement in fruit flies and the other for a molecular sensor that detects microRNA.
Though good in science at school, Aw fell in love with biology in particular only in university after her academic mentor encouraged her to conduct lab research. The 2017 L’Oréal-UNESCO Singapore For Women in Science National Fellowship in Life Sciences awardee attributes her passion for her research to curiosity, “because these diseases have a growing impact in our ageing societies”.
And the process of research gives Aw much joy. “Science is fascinating! I love that I’m constantly discovering new things and occasionally, when the stars align, I get to understand, for the first time, something no one else knew.”
She adds, “I love thinking of creative and original ways to ask a question, designing the experiment, carrying it out and then analysing and interpreting the data. Plus, the opportunity to contribute to our clinical understanding of disease is a big motivating factor.”