"Getting involved with other undergraduates conducting research is a unique and exciting opportunity and is what initially drew me to the USP. In addition I know very little about the process of getting a paper published or how to construct a proper board for a research fair. This program offers immense advice and support in both of these areas. In addition to gaining that experience this year, I would also like to become proficient in navigating literature in scientific databases and be comfortable with all neural nomenclature relevant to my research."
I love brains! Your brain is something you use every second of every day. It is by far the most phenomenal organ in the human body. Sometimes when I’m learning about my brain, it blows my own mind. I’ll never get to explore all the interests I have in neuroscience because it is all so genuinely fascinating. I am currently doing research on motor dysfunction and would like to further explore the clinical translation of my laboratory research.
Academic and Other Awards
- University Scholars Program Scholarship (2011-2012)
- Florida Bright Futures (2008)
Hobbies and Interests
- Painting, art, playing tennis, biking, cooking, reading, traveling, and gardening.
Environmental Enrichment: The Effects on Stereotypic Behavior and Indirect Pathway Function
Stereotypy is characterized by invariant repetitive movements that do not appear to serve any adaptive functions. A variety of behaviors fall under this category including hand flapping, body rocking, and verbal repetitions. Stereotypic behaviors are commonly associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly autism because restricted repetitive behaviors (RRB) (which includes stereotypy) are required to make an autism diagnosis. There are currently no effective biological treatments to reduce or prevent the stereotypic behavior exhibited by individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. Given the limitations of clinical studies, one way to effectively study the neurobiological basis of stereotypy is by using an animal model. There are a number of mammals that exhibit stereotyped behaviors spontaneously as a consequence of being reared in restricted environments. In the model used in the Lewis lab, deer mice exhibit high rates of stereotyped motor behavior (vertical jumping, backward somersaulting) when raised in standard laboratory cages. My project focused on the effects of environmental enrichment on (a) attenuating stereotypic behavior and (b) metabolic activity in the indirect pathway of the basal ganglia. Post weaning, half of the mice were reared in environmentally enriched kennels and half of the mice were reared in standard laboratory cages. After 40 days, the mice were observed and the number of repetitive jumps recorded. The brains of the mice were then assayed in relevant brain regions in both groups to reveal metabolic activity. My work will provide direct evidence of the role of the indirect basal ganglia pathway in the development and expression of stereotypic behavior. While other studies from the Lewis lab have found a correlation between the two, my project is unique in that the mice are subjected to their environments immediately after weaning. Clinically speaking, will environmental enrichment early on help attenuate the streotypies later in life?