Ms. Leighann Black Researching Schizophrenia at Vanderbilt University

Upon arriving at Vanderbilt University, I expected the unexpected.  However, the past eight weeks here have not only been encouraging, but eye opening as well. 

Ashley Scott and I arrived in Nashville on June 1st, and had orientation the next day.  At orientation, we learned our mentors would be for the duration of the program.  We then started working the day after.  I am interning with Ariel Deutch, a professor who recently left Yale University to pursue a higher position at Vanderbilt. 

The program here hosts enrichment seminars every Monday.  These enrichment seminars cover topics such as responsible conduct in research, networking in the biomedical sciences, and applying to MD/PhD programs.  They also host journal clubs that are held every Wednesday at noon.  The purpose of the journal club is to teach us to identify the question/hypothesis that the researchers pose, their methods of testing/answering the question, and their conclusions.

My first week consisted upon learning the ins and outs of the lab and lots and lots of reading.  They explained that in order to successfully complete and understand my research project, I would have to read many journals as well as chapters out of a neuroscience textbook (that Dr. Deutch assisted in writing) to strengthen my background knowledge on my project. 

My project consists of understanding the effects that Schizophrenia has on the human brain.  I am working under a graduate student named Pete in the lab and my project is connected with his project. Pete starts off by injecting a toxin into the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of a rats brain (these are called lesioned rats).  He then waits three weeks, beheads the rat, and dissects the prefrontal cortex from the entire brain.  Controlled rats have no toxins injected in their brain.  This toxin kills the dopamine producing cells in the VTA. 

After the prefrontal cortex is dissected out, the samples are then taken and prepared for immunoblotting by a series of homogenizations with increasingly harsh buffers.  This is where my part of the project comes into play.  He started off by teaching me how to run an immunoblot.  Immunolots are used to identify specific proteins of interest.  The whole reason for running these immunoblots are to try and detect and changes in the levels of astrocytic and post synaptic density proteins in the lesioned and controlled rats. 

So far, I have found a change in the expression levels of GLR-1, an astrocytic protein.  I am now in the midst of preparing a research poster to present at the Leadership Alliance research symposium being held this upcoming weekend. 

I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to Dr. Ratliff for assisting me in obtaining this wonderful opportunity.


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