Undergraduate Profile: Aaron Ring BR ’08

When Aaron Ring ’08 left his home in Washington for Yale, he knew that he wanted to do at least two things: research and music. Nearly four years later, Ring has turned his full focus to researching the genetic triggers of a disease that kills millions a year, with over 200,000 of those being preventable deaths. For him, hypertension is the “low-hanging” fruit— a disease that is highly visible but poorly understood by the public.

Earlier this year, Ring was named one of Yale’s three Goldwater scholars for his work in the lab of Dr. Rick Lifton, a Professor in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry department. “Before I even got to Yale, I knew I wanted to work in Lifton’s lab,” said Ring.

As a freshman, Ring was in Perspectives on Science, a class which he hailed as a “real boon” that opened doors to the different kinds of research being conducted at Yale. As luck would have it, Ring joined Lifton’s lab for his freshman summer internship. “Once I got comfortable…I was free to ask whatever questions…it was really exciting,” he says. “What I got from the lab is the perspective to think big…and to ask what questions will impact the most people,” Ring explains.

That first summer, he thrived under the enthusiasm and guidance of his colleagues. “I had plenty of help and encouragement. They really encouraged me to pursue my own ideas,” he says. Now a senior with two publications, Ring has continued research in the Lifton lab for all four years. “It’s what I look forward to doing in the morning, and it has really become part of my identity here,” he says.

In the research world, Ring found a trove of academic excitement. “After my freshman summer, I pretty much dropped everything to do research…it was that captivating,” he says. Ring’s general objective in the lab is to understand the key regulators of blood pressure. So far, he has helped describe novel observations of the impact of potassium salt with pressure. Ring has focused extensively on physiology and biochemistry to characterize the mutation of a family of kinases that affect hypertension.

Inside and outside the lab, Ring has a keen desire to contribute to the field. Ring feels that there are two fronts that must be addressed. Hypertension, a disease that affects one in four people in the U.S., is a silent killer of thousands each year and an enigma for the researchers.

“Even if we can treat hypertension with a vast array of effective treatments, there’s a fundamental lack of understanding that needs to be addressed for the public,” he explains, claiming that the vast majority of Americans do not know what a healthy blood pressure is or what their own blood pressure is.

Despite what seems to be a promising understanding of hypertension treatments, Ring emphasizes the importance of the second front: the science-oriented attack. “We still don’t know what causes high blood pressure in ninety percent of the cases,” he says. “It is undeniable that high blood pressure causes adverse events…and it is the single most important modifiable risk factor, which is to say, it’s something you can change.”

Although he has yet to graduate, Ring already knows his next pursuit: the MD/PhD degree. He feels that the double degree will be the best of two worlds, a goal inspired by an MD/PhD student in the Lifton lab and by Lifton himself. With the degree, he hopes to see the big picture in the clinical world as well as the important scientific details at the lab bench.