Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

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Science Council Member Helps Pre-Med Student Set His Sights on Research

Jonathan DeAssis

With support from John DelliSanti, FCRH '88, GBA '97, and Carestream, Fordham has given senior Jonathan DeAssis a chance to conduct valuable vision research using state-of-the-art equipment.

As a student at Staten Island Technical High School, Jonathan DeAssis volunteered on a cardiothoracic surgery ward. A physician invited him to stand beside him as he performed heart surgery.

“It was a very cool experience. From that point on I wanted to be a doctor,” says DeAssis, a Brooklyn native who is the first in his family to go to college.

The pre-med senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill has been working with Silvia Finnemann, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, developing an eye-drop detection method for identifying retinal disease in rats. The city boy confessed he never thought he’d be working with live animals.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. But as it turned out, he was good at it.  He was soon on his way to the University of Notre Dame, Fordham’s partner in the research study, where he spent 10 days photographing the retinas of the rodents in the university’s lab.

The collaboration between the two universities came about through Fordham Science Council member John DelliSanti, FCRH '88, GBA '97, a former executive at Carestream. The medical imaging and IT company had invested in Notre Dame’s molecular imaging lab and was funding the study, which DelliSanti helped to oversee.  

DelliSanti, now chief operating officer for ArisGlobal, was impressed with Finnemann’s research when he visited Rose Hill in February 2012. He connected her with the Notre Dame scientists, and they began working together on the project. A Carestream fellowship funded DeAssis’ trip to Notre Dame, where he worked on the university’s sophisticated in-vivo imaging machine, also donated by the company.

Thanks to DelliSanti and his former colleagues, DeAssis is able to continue this work at Rose Hill. Pleased with the young researcher’s images and Fordham’s overall work on the study, Carestream donated another in-vivo imaging machine to the University.

“It continues to be a very productive project,” says Finnemann. She hopes her research will contribute to the efforts to detect eye disease in its earliest stages.

“The fact that an undergraduate has the opportunity to participate in innovative research that has major implications for vision, for science, and for medical care—this is what students can accomplish at Fordham by seeking out a lab and volunteering and getting engaged,” says the professor.

DeAssis is “very serious about his project,” she adds, working in the lab twice a week despite his academic and volunteer commitments. He’s also busy with medical school applications—he was granted interviews at 11 of the 16 schools to which he applied, including Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Georgetown; NYU; SUNY Downstate; Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine; Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth; and Temple University School of Medicine. The latter four have already accepted him.

The oldest of four children in a close-knit family, DeAssis grew up in the Bensonhurst/Gravesend area of Brooklyn, next door to his grandparents. When he was 16, the whole clan moved to Staten Island.

One of his high school teachers suggested he apply to Fordham, and when he saw the green expanses and Gothic architecture of Rose Hill, he was convinced.

“I really wanted a campus,” says DeAssis, who plays intramural basketball and football at Fordham, and volunteers with FUEMS, the Fordham University Emergency Medical Service. He was also drawn to the University’s Jesuit mission to produce homines pro aliis, “men and women for others.”

“As an aspiring physician” he says, “that really appealed to me.”

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