Longitudinal cerebrospinal fluid biomarker changes in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease during middle age
To Courtney Sutphen, a Neuroscience Ph.D. Candidate in the lab of Anne Fagan, the decision to study Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was very personal. While an undergraduate student at the University of Puget Sound, Courtney’s great-grandmother was diagnosed with AD. After spending many hours researching and reading about the disease with her family, Courtney decided to focus her graduate work on advancing the research of AD pathogenesis.
At WUSTL, Courtney joined a team conducting an ongoing, longitudinal clinical and biomarker study of adults with varying risk factors for AD, called the Adult Children Study (ACS). Although this study has been going for more than a decade –with the earliest sample in this particular study from 2003- Courtney joined the project at an opportune time when the ACS had enough samples to put together a large enough cohort of individuals to perform statistically relevant analyses. The main goal of her study is to identify a combinatorial biomarker panel that can be used to determine if an individual is showing signs of AD.
By focusing on spinal fluid samples from young, cognitively normal individuals in the ACS cohort, and then following changes in the samples of those people for 3-12 years, Courtney began to tease out which biomarkers showed abnormalities first. In particular, her study focused on overall changes in groups based on age to reveal potential for future cognitive decline. The goal is to eventually be able to use the same biomarkers to pinpoint biomarker changes in a single individual, rather than a group, to determine early signs of AD.
Courtney recently published her findings in JAMA Neurology and is working hard to fulfill her promise to herself and to others to advance the research of early diagnosis of AD.
Dr. Anne Fagan, left, and graduate student Courtney Sutphen, now show that biomarkers in human spinal fluid can be help determine early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Washington University School of Medicine Departmental Softball League
Every year from April to August you can find students, staff, and even PIs at Forest Park entrenched in the biggest rivalry on campus: the departmental softball league. The Neuroscience team, The Mighty Homunculi, has a long history of excellence on and off the field, coming in 2nd place in the 2011 league championships and winning the 2013 championships. Even when we (rarely) don’t win, our 99% beef-heart burgers and not-so-ice-cold-beers are sure to leave the other team wishing they were on our level.
For the past several years, the Mighty Muncs have had captains who are passionate and savvy for the sport, but above all they also truly understood pain. Literally, they trained in Rob Gereau’s lab in the Anesthesiology Department.
The Mighty Homunculi (H. Gasser League Champions - 2013)
However, in 2015 we are forced to tip our baseball caps to Dr. Dan O’Brien as he leaves WashU and the captainship of the Mighty Muncs to start his Post-doc in the lab of Jeff Conn at the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. Although we are all surely going to miss Dan’O and his charming lack of punctuality, we are all looking forward to another great season of softball under the leadership of our newly appointed captain, Ashley Nielsen!
Ashley entered the Neuroscience Graduate Program in 2013, after earning her B.S. in Bioengineering from University of Pittsburg. As an undergrad, Ashley studied the functional connectivity of resting-state fMRI, which has laid the foundation for her current work in Bradley Schlaggar’s lab at WashU. Although Ashley may not study pain, her mind-blowing ball catching splits from first-base will inflict a lot of emotional pain in our opponents. Let’s go Muncs!
Energy and the Brain – Molly Stanley on FameLab
FameLab is an international competition that gives researchers the opportunity to present their work to a lay audience in a Ted Talk-esque fashion. In a recent regional competition at Washington University, Molly Stanley, a Ph.D. student and National Science Foundation Fellow in David Holtzman’s Lab, presented her work on the link between Amyloid-β and glucose metabolism in Alzheimer's disease to an audience of non-scientists in only three minutes.
Finding a way to successfully communicate science to the general population is essential for public education and global support of scientific research, however the public often feels overwhelmed by the jargon used to disseminate complex concepts in scientific research.
FameLab is a competition that strives to overcome this barrier between experts and non-experts, and they challenged Molly to take her results in lab and present them in a way that we rarely get to do as scientists. Participating in FameLab made her realize how important it is to be able to explain your science to investigators in different fields: “I heard about collecting primate feces around the world to collect DNA samples, bee pollination, and nuclear pasta in neutron stars. The way the participants communicated their science not only made it accessible but also sparked my interest.” FameLab also included sessions on how to better communicate science to the public and overall Molly found that the experience was a fun challenge that she will continue to benefit from as she continues to participate in scientific outreach.
Where are they now? Catching up with WU Neuroscience Alum: Dr. Laura Duvall
Laura graduate with her Ph.D. in 2012 after earning her B.A. in Biochemistry and Biological Basis of Behavior from University of Pennsylvania in 2007. While at WashU, Laura worked for Dr. Paul Taghert studying neuropeptide signaling that regulates the circadian system in Drosophila. Laura was an extremely productive graduate student, publishing 3 first-author papers in the Targhet lab. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Leslie Vosshall's lab at The Rockefeller University where she studies the role of neuropeptides in the regulation of host-seeking behavior in dengue fever Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
Looking back on her training in the Neuroscience Program, Laura appreciates all of the opportunities she had to talk about her work to various people at WashU. For example, on multiple occasions she presented work in front of the Taghert lab at group meeting, other grad students at the "Works in Progress" talks, and other circadian labs at monthly Clocks Club meetings. This taught her how to talk about her research to wide range of audiences and was a big advantage when interviewing at labs outside of her specific graduate field. For those of us who have started looking for success in potential post-doc labs, she says that it was helpful to think about the aspects of her project that she thoroughly enjoyed and then looking for places where she could expand on those techniques or questions.
We are very happy to hear from Laura and wish her all the best as she continues making strides in her career!
A Scientist Made of Steel
If Lenny Ramsey, a Neuroscience PhD candidate and a McDonnell International Scholar in the lab of Maurizio Corbetta, is not walking you to an MRI scan it’s because she’s probably running past you to win a race. Lenny, a Netherlands native and part of the 2010 entering class, manages to balance research on the recovery of patients after stroke with a demanding training schedule for year-round, nation-wide races.
This past October, in her biggest accomplishment so far, Lenny finished her first half-ironman, coming in second place in the women’s division in Alton, Illinois! For those unaware of what this entails, she only had to swim 1.2 miles off the Mississippi River, bike 56 miles, and cap it all off with a 13.1 mile run. Now that would be an impressive accomplishment for anyone but Lenny has spent a big part of grad school career in various braces after an ACL tear and a foot injury. What does a typical day in Lenny’s life looks like? Well, it starts off at 6am every morning to get training in before heading to lab with longer training sessions in the weekends. So remember, next time you have a hard time waking up and heading to lab, Lenny has probably already ran 10 miles before you even had a cup of coffee! Lenny’s first race of 2015 will be the half ironman in Florida this April and we are all rooting her on!
Cristina Mazuski Awarded NSP Fellowship
Always striving for success and independence, neuroscience graduate students and post-docs are consistently applying for and winning awards, and Cristina Mazuski is no exception. The Neuroscience Scholars Program (NSP) is a multidimensional two-year training program by the Society for Neuroscience open to underrepresented and diverse neuroscience graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Building upon the 30-year history of NSP, the program continues to support annual travel awards, mentoring, and professional development, and Cristina was recently appointed as a fellow.
Before joining the 2011 entering class, Cristina received her B.S. from Northwestern University. Her current research aims to reveal the roles of different classes of cells in circadian behavior and physiology in lab of Dr. Erik Herzog. Cristina combines optogenetics with in vivo behavior and microdialysis to test the hypotheses that identified SCN neurons regulate entrainment and coordination of daily rhythms in locomotion and corticosterone.
Description of the image submitted by Cristina: Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) expressing neurons are located in the ventral portion of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the master circadian pacemaker. The release of VIP from these neurons (pictured in green) is necessary for maintaining intercellular synchrony within the SCN and phase shifting behavioral rhythms in response to input. My research focuses on directly stimulating VIPergic neurons to understand their role in circadian rhythms and behavior.
The Art of Neuroscience
Art comes in all shapes and forms, and two neuroscience students, Matheus Victor (2011 Entering Class; lab of Andrew Yoo) and Cody Greer (2012 Entering Class; lab of Tim Holy) presented their work outside of the traditional realm of science. Victor and Greer were selected to participate in a juried exhibition at Des Lee Gallery in Downtown St. Louis last December.
PARABOLA:COLLABORA was curated by Dayna Kriz and Kellie Spano (MFA Candidates 2015) and made possible by the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the Graduate Professional Council of Washington University in St. Louis. The exhibition was aimed at contextualizing all fields of graduate study at Washington University as inherently creative fields of study.