Student Spotlight: Elliott Robinson, Audrey Verde, Doug Ornoff, and Kate Hacker
Elliott Robinson focuses on understanding how a genetic variant of the mu opioid receptor alters the rewarding properties of alcohol and affects neural pathways involved in positive reinforcement and addiction. Using intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS), Elliott measures the reward-potentiating effects of drugs of abuse in a humanized mouse model of the A118G mu opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) polymorphism. He will also use whole cell patch clamp recording to investigate how this polymorphism alters dopaminergic neurotransmission in brain reward pathways. The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms through which genetic differences moderate risk for developing alcohol use disorders.
Audrey Verde is currently researching the neurobiology of alcoholism and how alcohol addiction impacts episodic memory circuits. Employing diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a magnetic resonance imaging technique (MRI) measuring the diffusion of water molecules in tissue, Audrey is capable of mapping axonal degeneration along white matter tracts and identifying possible disconnects in structural connectivity. She will also be using functional MRI records to monitor the blood oxygenation level dependence signal to determine the functional connectivity within the episodic memory network. By better understanding the interaction between alcoholism neurobiology and episodic memory the efficacy of the clinical approach to alcoholism and addiction disorders can be modified to accommodate the degenerative changes of the disease.
Doug Ornoff studies pulmonary processes resulting from damage to the alveolus, specifically Alveolar Type 1 cells and their roles in ion transport and alveolar fluid balance. Unfortunately, current technology does not allow for ideal alveolar cell culture models. Doug plans to remedy this by developing and optimizing microwell arrays with an air-liquid interface that would specialize in growing AT1 cells. Cultured AT1 cells will be manipulated with pharmacologic inhibitors targeting Na+ and Cl- ion transport through specific channels while measuring the height of apical surface fluid resulting from free water movement through aquaporin channels. Clinically, this information will help develop treatment plans for serious conditions like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) which has a mortality of 50% in certain patient groups and is currently treated with mechanical ventilation and supportive therapy.
Kate Hacker is studying genetic and epigenetic alterations in clear cell Renal Cell Carcinoma (ccRCC). Recent reports by other groups have identified frequent mutations in epigenetic-modifying genes in ccRCC. Kate’s project involves elucidating the downstream effects of these mutations on chromatin architecture, histone modifications, gene expression, and clinical outcomes.
By Matthew Skancke