Lucine’s Personal Project

Lucine Strecker

My Grade 10 Personal Project: “Mitochondrial Diseases & The Joshua Hellmann Foundation for Orphan Diseases”

My close family-friend named Christina is a force of nature. She’s fiercely loving and incredibly frank. I’ve often wondered about the experiences that shaped her, and was shocked to discover recently that her eldest child passed away from a mitochondrial disease in 2007. Christina’s empowered because she advocated for her ailing son throughout his 5-year battle with MELAS Syndrome. It touched my heart to learn of Joshua’s life and death, and his struggle with mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondrial disease? “What is that,” I wondered. This is how I stumbled across my Personal Project idea.

If you’ve ever taken high school biology, you’re probably familiar with mitochondria, funny things called the “powerhouses of the cell.” Mitochondria are organelles that are responsible for the production of energy and maintenance of cellular metabolism. However, mutations in nuclear DNA or mtDNA can meaningfully disrupt your mitochondria’s ability to function.

“Mitochondrial diseases” are a group of chronic, genetic disorders caused by mutations in the cell’s mitochondria. Mitochondrial diseases affect the most “energy-intensive” vital organs. Their multi-symptomatic nature makes them extremely difficult to diagnose and treat. Worse, some disorders are extremely rare, and are allocated very little research and drug development. Without intervention, mitochondrial diseases can be fatal within the first few weeks of life.

I am fascinated by genetics and was surprised that I never stumbled across these conditions in my independent studies. Thus, I decided to dedicate my Grade 10 Personal Project to building awareness about mitochondrial diseases, and to promote the important work of a charity called Joshua Hellmann Foundation for Orphan Disease. “JHF” advances the awareness, diagnosis, treatment and research of rare diseases like mitochondrial disorders. It is committed to improving the welfare of sick children in Hong Kong, my birthplace and original home.

Brave Christina founded JHF in her son’s honour and supports families battling diseases “orphaned” by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. I am deeply moved by Joshua’s story, and am inspired to join the fight against mitochondrial diseases. Will you join me? Please support JHF’s programs by donating via the link below!