At Fisk, I research the transcriptional regulation of dopamine neuron function. Dopamine (DA) is a chemical in the brain that controls movement, emotion, and cognition. DA neurons must synthesize, release, degrade, and recycle dopamine with incredible precision. Although DA signaling has been well studied, the current model remains too rudimentary to fully explain how this precision is maintained. Proper DA neuron function is regulated by a variety of under-studied transcription factors (proteins that turn genes on and off). Examining these transcription factors in more detail is crucial to understanding the interplay of genes that give rise to functional and mature DA neurons. We use worms as a simple system for studying functional neurogenomics. Whereas the human nervous system is a vast neural network containing millions of individual neurons, the C. elegans nervous system contains only 302 neurons; 8 of which are DA neurons. Furthermore, humans and C. elegans share a surprising degree of genetic homology, and many transcriptional regulators are also conserved between the two species. The end goal of our research is to uncover new genes that may help in the development of regenerative therapeutics for the treatment of DA-related diseases.
After I obtain my PhD in neurobiology, I want to lead my own lab, and approach innovative topics in neuroscience. As of now, my interests remain broad, but I am interested in cognitive enhancement, neurodegenerative disease, and synaptogenesis.
I am also really into science writing, and closing the gap between the research world and the public domain. In the future, I hope that I will have the opportunity to train the next generation of amazing young scientists. Coming from a disadvantaged background myself, I want to eventually seek out highly motivated students who have overcome significant adversity. This will be my way of selecting, perhaps not the brightest students, but the most motivated individuals. I believe the motivation that carried these students through their personal adversities is a strong indicator of success in the sciences. Being aware of how crucial a good research mentor is to a developing scientist, I intend to strive to guide my students to the best of my ability. I hope that my passion for science will be embodied by my research and emanate in the success of my future students.