UNH Graduate Student receives TPDA Award


Monday, November 13, 2017
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Brianna LaCarubba (Bri), a graduate student in Integrative Organismal Biology in the Department of Biological Sciences, has received the prestigious Trainee Professional Development Award (TPDA) from the Society for Neuroscience. The TPDA recognizes undergraduate, graduate students and postdocs demonstrating scientific merit and excellence in research. Awardees have the opportunity to present at a special poster session, network with peers and senior scientists, and participate in workshops at the annual meeting.

The aim of these awards is to promote the advancement of career training to neuroscientists from a wide range of institutions. Awards are distributed based on the merit of the student’s application. As an award recipient, Bri received a complimentary registration to attend the annual meeting in Washington, DC as well as a monetary gift.

Bri’s interest in neuroscience began when she was an undergraduate student majoring in Biological Sciences at Boston College where she worked on how omega-3 fatty acids affect cognition and memory in lobsters. After a period in industry where she worked in water quality control, she found herself applying for a technician position here at UNH in the Andrade Lab. She worked for over a year with Dr. Arturo Andrade, who is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology in the Department of Biological Sciences before applying to Graduate School.

Missing academia, she came to the decision to apply to the Masters Program here at UNH. Andrade who has been influential from the start of her stepping foot onto the campus chairs her committee where she is conducting her research study on the functional impact of alternative splicing on voltage-gated calcium channels.

“I'm doing my master's specifically on calcium channel splice isoforms (these are different proteins that are encoded by the same gene) and their presence or absence both over development and in specific tissue types. The specific calcium channel I'm studying is called CaV1.3. CaV1.3 is involved in a variety of biophysical functions, and impairments in CaV1.3 are linked to a variety of disorders including autism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and bradycardia.  CaV1.3 has many different isoforms which can be both developmentally regulated and tissue specific. My goal is to understand where and when these isoforms are present, and what their functions are. Right now, modern medicine largely ignores the diversity of splice isoforms. This is despite the fact that natural variation in splice isoforms has been shown to influence both disease susceptibility and drug response. In the long term, I believe fully understanding the location and function of the splice isoforms could inform patient drug decisions, as well as the investigation of new drug targets, especially as the field moves toward more and more personalized medicine. “

When asked what drew her into the neuroscience field, LaCarubba stated “The brain is fascinating; the brain is like space, so much we don’t know about it. There is so much to be known about how the brain functions.” The best part of her day is “Doing experiments 100%; I love when things don’t work because when you finally get it to work it’s the best feeling.”

Would you do things differently? Bri responded that “Everything has fallen into place”. Applying to work in Dr. Andrade’s lab has taken her right down the path she had her sights set on all along. Her time is split up working as a technician and being a grad student. “Every day is different, you are constantly problem solving. Your brain is constantly going.”

LaCarubba’ s advice for fellow students would be to secure a job after completion of their Undergraduate Degree. Taking the time off in between degrees gave Bri a clear vision of what she was after. “Get your skill set, and the supervisory aspect. I knew what I wanted, because I knew what I didn’t want.” Exploring who you want as your research group leader also known as Principal Investigator (PI) is important. Because that person is a key component in a lab, you want the PI to be someone you will collaborate well with. LaCarubba has found her PI (Dr. Andrade) to be well suited.  She has nothing but praise for him as a prestigious scientist in his field. Following her inclinations, has certainly been beneficial for allowing Bri to enter a world of exploration of neuroscience.

Bri’s plans are to venture into pharmaceutical research after graduation or even perhaps pursue a Ph.D. With a 4.0 GPA and enthusiasm for the field her options will be endless. Spoken like a true scientist, “I love research and being at a lab bench.”

 

 

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