Alice Lam

Alice  Lam
Undergraduate Research and Innovation Scholar
Advisor: Polina Anikeeva
Department: Biological Engineering & Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Years: 2022-2023
Research Project Title:

Exploring the Gut-Brain Connection in Schizophrenia via Long-Term Optogenetic Manipulation of the Enteral Nervous System

abstract:Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe psychiatric disorder characterized by positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thought), negative symptoms (asociality and anhedonia) and cognitive deficits. While the disease is well-characterized in a clinical sense, less is known about the underlying mechanisms that drive the disease processes associated with schizophrenia. Current treatments adequately address positive symptoms in a large proportion of patients, but are less effective at addressing the negative symptoms and cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia. This project intends to build off of existing optogenetic work on the disruptions of the cerebral and enteral nervous systems associated with schizophrenia to build a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the disease as a whole. To do so, we hope to selectively activate the gut-brain dopaminergic pathway to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved and test whether light activating dopaminergic enteric neurons, which express optogenetic actuators, could rescue dopaminergic degeneration.

Through SuperUROP, I hope to draw from my classes and prior UROP experiences in biological instrumentation to develop devices that allow for a better understanding of the mechanisms behind neuropsychiatric conditions. I hope to gain more experience in biology and mechanical engineering through this project, and I'm excited to be doing work that may lead to better clinical outcomes for the many people living with neuropsychiatric conditions.