How did you become interested in neuroscience?
When I was 12 years old my grandfather had a stroke. Since he lived with us, it was the first time I’d ever seen the impact of brain injury on a person’s life, so I decided to study psychology in college. My first job was doing schizophrenia research which quickly sparked my interest in the effects of genes and environment on brain health. I wanted to know how those two factors influence the brain. Using genetics and neuroimaging, I’ve looked at how genes and environment interact to lead to schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and addictive disorders.
Why study the brain, especially addiction?
There are a lot of reasons to study the brain. It’s important to look at how the normal brain functions in order to improve and maximize brain capacity and brain health and to also determine the mechanisms that lead to disorders. Doing so could inform on how best to prevent and treat these disorders. Here, at the Center for BrainHealth, I do research that evaluates how environmental and genetic contributions lead to brain changes that underlie addictive behavior. The ultimate goal is to provide information towards the development of more targeted preventative and intervention strategies.
What have you learned from your research?
A single gene can actually create huge individual differences, not just in how people behave, but also in how their brain functions. Clinical applications to findings like this truly have the potential to impact people who are suffering from addictive behavior.
What’s the best part of your job?
I really enjoy mentoring and working with all of the research assistants, interns, and students. Seeing their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn is inspiring and refreshing.
Describe yourself with three adjectives.
Calm, supportive, and happy.