As a grateful husband and proud parent of baby boy Everett, John Elliott Robinson’s family is not the only thing that continues to grow. With his expanding family comes many responsibilities, something Robinson has no problem handling as he continues to further his education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. John Elliott began his career as a student at the UNC’s School of Medicine in 2008 and moved on to begin his PhD in Neurobiology in the Summer of 2010. His many accomplishments include completing an IRTA, serving on the Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor, and working as a member of the Medical School Honor Court and UNC Student Congress. In the midst of all these priorities, Robinson’s main focus is his research.
Currently, he is graduate student in Dr. C.J. Malanga's Laboratory of Developmental Neuropharmacology in the Department of Neurology.
We asked John Elliott questions about his perspective on being a Neurobiology PhD student...here's what he has to say...
(NBIO)-What does your current research focus on?
(JER)-I conduct translational research in addiction, which focuses on translating basic discoveries into clinical practice. My research focuses on the novel use of several classes of pharmacological agents to limit the "rewarding" properties of several abused substances, including opioids, cocaine, and alcohol, using the using the operant behavioral method intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS). As a part of a collaboration with Dr. Markus Heilig at the NIAAA, I am also investigating how a polymorphism in the mu opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) affects cellular and behavioral responses to drugs of abuse. These studies employ a humanized mouse strain to study mechanisms of drug reward pre-clinically, and we will compare these findings to those from a cohort of human subjects using neuroimaging techniques.
(NBIO)-What type of work in the lab does this entail? Does it require a great amount of work outside the lab?
(JER)-Our work in the lab involves two main experimental techniques: intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) and slice electrophysiology. ICSS is a behavioral method that measures a drug’s ability to engage circuits involved with positive reinforcement. Drugs of abuse potently enhance ICSS responding, and changes in measures of ICSS are thought to be reflective of a drugs rewarding or aversive effects. In conjunction with behavioral testing, we use slice electrophysiology to investigate signaling in brain reward circuits and provide insight into the cellular processes underlying the behavioral effects we measure using ICSS.
(NBIO)-What kind of hours does your research require? Can you explain a typical day in the lab?
(JER)-I usually run behavioral experiments from 8 AM – 12 PM. In the afternoon, I prepare manuscripts for publication, analyze data, or work with our electrophysiologist to record from brain slices.
(NBIO)-In April of 2012 you were awarded an NRSA. Can you tell us more about that?
(JER)-I was awarded an F30 from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; this grant will fund my doctoral and medical education at Carolina. Dr. Markus Heilig, the clinical director at the NIAAA, serves as co-mentor and has provided me with humanized mice with which I will study how mu opioid receptor gene variation affects alcohol reward.
(NBIO)-What are your plans following your education at UNC?
(JER)-I plan on pursuing a medical residency in psychiatry with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician-scientist that develops treatments for substance abuse and affective disorders. After a wonderful experience as a post-baccalaureate IRTA at the NIAAA before coming to UNC, I’d love to return to Bethesda for a post-doctoral fellowship.
(NBIO)-What recommendations would you give to a student entering your field of study?
(JER)-Be persistent. Experiments don’t always work; most of the medical or graduate schools you apply to will ignore your application; and high impact journals won’t always want your manuscript. Use each professional failure as a learning experience and don’t ever be afraid to try (and fail) again. Be persistent and you will ultimately find success.