Ella Kasanga found a nurturing environment at HSC more than 6,000 miles from her native Ghana

Ella Web

By Diane Smith-Pinckney 

Growing up, Ella Kasanga wanted to be a pharmacist because the profession allowed her to serve her community while interacting with people, but her professional passion changed after she was introduced to biomedical research. 

Dr. Kasanga, who graduated in May 2021 from The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC), is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  

The potential to help a wider range of people through biomedical research is the heart of Dr. Kasanga’s work. It also explains why she continued her studies after earning a pharmacy degree. 

“My work would not just benefit the people close to me; it could potentially help a larger population. That is my interest – that is my journey,” Dr. Kasanga said. 

Dr. Kasanga, who earned a PhD in biomedical sciences, under the mentorship of Michael Salvatore, PhD, a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Neuroscience in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, investigated the mechanisms associated with motor impairment in Parkinson’s Disease. This disease is generally described as a motor disorder that affects the elderly population. Most patients have impaired mobility which impairs their quality of life with disease progression.  

Dr. Kasanga’s work sought to investigate underlying mechanisms of this motor dysfunction upon which therapies and interventions could be targeted.  

“Research is built on what has been done in the past,” Dr. Kasanga said. “My work can serve as a building platform from which later generations can build upon.”

Dr. Kasanga, a native of Ghana, earned a pharmacy degree and master’s degree in pharmacology while in her home country. In 2016, she moved to Texas so that she could work on her PhD. 

Why HSC? 

Dr. Kasanga noted HSC as the right fit for her while weighing graduate school options due to HSC’s strong research program as well as nurturing and friendly environment. 

Another selling point came from West African students at HSC who highly recommended the institution, she said. 

“I had friends from Ghana who were already students at the institution, and they shared their experience,” she said. 

More graduate students from Ghana followed Dr. Kasanga’s path and have come to further their studies at HSC.  

Apart from her research, Dr. Kasanga also served the HSC campus and Fort Worth community on several fronts. 

“I was involved in a lot of the organizations on campus,” she said, explaining that she was part of the student-led diversity task force, International Student Association, Graduate Student Association, HSC Sustainability Committee and also served as the student representative on the Institutional Animal Care and Use (IACUC) Committee. 

Dr. Kasanga, who likes cooking, volunteered at Taste Community Restaurant, a Fort Worth non-profit that works to ensure communities are fed. 

Working with her dissertation mentor, Dr. Salvatore, also offered opportunities to engage with people living with Parkinson’s disease. This work took her outside of a laboratory setting. 

“It was a way for us to let people know what we are working on in the lab,” she said, adding that she could see first-hand how the disease impacts the quality of life of patients and their caregivers. 

As she continues searching for ways to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease at her new position, Dr. Kasanga is inspired by her professional calling: “I believe for us health professionals our goal is to make sure people live long healthy lives.” 

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