Meet the Rare Calvin team and hear more from some students who have been involved in rare disease research at Calvin University.

Current lab members


Elle Hazlett

Elle Hazlett

Summer 2019 – present

Elle is a senior this year, majoring in Strategic Communications with a minor in Business, although she also has a background in science. She intends to pursue a career in rare disease advocacy and has been working with our team since the summer of 2019. Her initial project focused on developing the first K-5 curricular materials about rare diseases. She also helped to plan the 2020 Rare Disease Day symposium where she was a panelist and moderator on the patient panel and piloted her educational materials. This year, she has had a big part in helping us with our newest project, Rare Disease Network, which is an extension of our partnership with MSU and Spectrum Health. She has been working on website content and design for RDN, branding, social media, and event planning for the virtual version of the Rare Disease Day Symposium we will be holding in February of 2021.

When asked why she wanted to study rare disease, Elle said, “I myself have several rare diseases and I know firsthand just how important rare disease research is. As a patient, I have done countless hours of my own research into my diseases, trying to understand and quantify what the vast majority of doctors have never even heard of. Although I love scientific research, I have discovered that my real passion lies in advocacy. When you have a rare disease, you have to be an advocate for yourself in order to survive in a world that you often don’t fit in to. Unfortunately, many people with rare diseases do not have a platform or are unable to have a voice to advocate for themselves. In such cases, gaps arise in understanding and empathy between the person affected by rare disease and those surrounding them—doctors, families, friends, and so on. I would like to be a part of helping to bridge that gap by using my own voice and experiences to help those like me.”


Isabel Johnson

Isabel Johnson

Summer 2019 – present

Isabel is a senior studying Biochemistry and Neuropsychology and intending to pursue a career doing research in the field of Neuroscience. She has been working in the Rare Disease Lab since the summer of 2019. Her first project focused on investigating how the mutations implicated in Björnstad Syndrome affect the regulation of mitochondrial networks in yeast models. In May of 2020 Isabel was one of two Calvin students awarded a 2020-21 Beckman Scholars position on behalf of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. Her Beckman Scholars project is focused on identifying new protein-protein interaction partners of BCS1L. With these, we can learn more about the cellular context in which BCS1L functions, connecting observed phenotypes in clinical cases of rare disease with the network of proteins that BCS1L interacts with. Isabel is also creating a presentation that combines structural information about each known BCS1L mutation with clinical outcomes of these mutations. This will provide accessible knowledge about these rare diseases for doctors, genetic counselors, and patients, as well as a resource for other researchers and students to learn more about how rare disease models can increase our knowledge of cell function.

Isabel says that rare disease research is important to her, “because it enables us to examine details about the healthy functioning of a cell that are difficult to isolate otherwise. Additionally, the things we learn in our lab can be applied to develop treatments for patients living with these diseases.”


Past Team Members

  • Ryan German
    • Zebrafish Model System
    • Summer 2018 - Summer 2019
  • Luke Schellenberg
    • Zebrafish Model System
    • Summer 2019
  • Carly Byrnes
    • Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Summer 2019
  • Sara Knapp
    • Antibiotic testing in vivo and in vitro
    • Summer 2019
  • Shannon Stewart
    • Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Summer 2018
  • Kalina Reese
    • Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Summer 2017 – Summer 2018
  • Regan Bond
    • Website Development
    • Spring 2018
  • Leah Baas
    • Launched Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Spring 2017
    • Currently a research fellow at Imagenetics