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Specialization in Grad School

Explain what you are doing in terms of your specialization in graduate school. 

I’m working towards my Ph.D. in Neuroscience, with a track in Behavioral Genetics. I’m interested in the genetic and environmental determinants of addiction (especially alcohol abuse) and related phenotypes such as impulsivity, aggression, and anxiety.  For my current project, I’m looking at behavioral and physiological differences between inbred lines of mice in their response to stress and in their response to ethanol.  I’m measuring anxiety behavior as well as differences in stress hormones and gene expression.

I entered a general molecular and cellular biology umbrella program.  I have now joined the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology department and am working toward understanding the mechanism of neuroprotection in a stroke model.

I'm in my first year and still doing research rotations. Overall I am interested in nervous system development. In one rotation I was looking at a couple genes that may be involved in early spinal cord development. I learned a technique in which you inject the DNA that encodes a protein of interest into the spinal cord of a developing chick embryo and then pass an electrical current across the cord. Because the DNA is charged, the current forces the DNA into only half of the spinal cord. A couple days later, you can examine the spinal cord for resulting differences between the two halves. I couldn't bring myself to eat eggs for a couple weeks after doing this project for fear I'd find a beating heart and tiny nervous system developing when i cracked the egg open, but the technique is really neat.

In another rotation I was looking at the possible role of microRNAs (tiny strands of RNA that bind to messenger RNA to prevent translation into protein) in regulating genes involved in development. Most recently, I've been working in a lab that uses structural MRI to compare brain growth of autistic children to that of normal children.

I'm still within my rotations, so I haven't found a home lab to focus on yet. During this rotation I am working in an occupational/environmental toxicology lab. The focus of this lab is the effect of environmental toxins and genetic repair capacity on neurodegenerative disease. My project specifically aims to observe differences in cellular degeneration, genetic degeneration, and metabolic degeneration in a knockout mouse model for AP Endonuclease (an enzyme implicated in gene repair) when subjected to oxidative stress by environmental toxins. The model involves in vivo and in vitro methods of study. In addition to the dependent measures already stated, the independent variables are toxin, toxin concentration, AP Endonuclease wild type/heterozygous partial knockout/heterozygous complete knockout, tissue type (fibroblasts vs. neurons), and toxin application protocol (continuous administration vs. single administration).

I am currently using electrophysiological, molecular, and computer modelingtechniques in order to understand how neurons control behavior in a "simple,"invertebrate system (Hirudo medicinalis, aka the medicinal leech).

I am enrolled in the Biopsychology program at Cornell University, where Iconduct research in neurobehavioral toxicology. Specifically, I amexamining the cognitive alterations that result from low-level leadexposure in neonatal and juvenile rats, and I am attempting to elucidatethe neurochemical ontogeny of these alterations. I utilizeimmunocytochemistry to localize region-specific changes in enzyme,neurotransmitter, and receptor expression in the control and Pb-exposedanimals, and I collaborate with a researcher at another university who doesin vivo neurophysiological recordings in the same animals that receive thebehavioral testing. The purpose of this research is to understand theneurobehavioral sequelae associated with lead exposure early in life sothat appropriate intervention (biochemical and cognitive) can be devisedfor affected human children.

I am working on a project called "Human Neuroanatomical Systems forPerceiving Emotion in Music." I am studying music perception in normalhuman subjects and in human subjects with brain damage. When subjectswith damage to a specific region of the brain have impairments in someaspect of music perception, we infer that the region of the brain which isdamaged must be involved in that aspect of music perception. Thisinference is the basis of the lesion method.

My research combines my two main neuroscience interests - neuroanatomy and behavior. We are currently studying the effects of bilateral amygdala lesions on the development of social behavior in rhesus macaques. In addition, I also study the development of serotonergic projections to the macaque amygdala.

I am currently a student in a Doctor of Pharmacy program, and I also do research in the Department of Pharmacology. In addition to pharmacy coursework, I study the responses of adrenergic receptors on the bovine inferior alveolar artery (BIAA) to the effects of various local anesthetics that are utilized in dentistry. This just goes to show you that you can do anything with a neuroscience background!

The research I am working on is clinical in nature. I am primarily working on a project comparing the cortical activation in working memory tasks between schizophrenic patients, their siblings and normal controls using functional magnetic resonance imaging. My lab works on two other projects as well. We obtain structural scans on these subjects, which we use to compare the volumes of certain regions of the brain between groups. We also acquire spectroscopy scans, which provide us with the chemical composition of parts of the brain using MR. All three of these studies are part of a large study at the National Institutes of Health with Schizophrenics and their siblings. The subjects also undergo DNA testing, neuropsychological and eye-tracking tests, and many other experiments. My day to day work includes teaching the subjects how to perform the memory task, running the scan, and analyzing the fMRI data.