Allison (Alice) Lam
Undergraduate Research and Innovation Scholar
Optogenetic Investigation of the Gut-Brain Axis in Parkinson' s Disease
Biological Engineering & Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Biological Engineering
- Brain and Cognitive Science
Parkinson’ s Disease, a disease characterized by the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, is a progressive neuropsychiatric disorder that results in widespread cognitive and motor deficits. Clinical evidence and prior literature suggest that dopamine generation, both through non-invasive means (e.g. exercise) or though direct optogenetic activation of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, has neuroprotective effects that overall slow disease progression.
Our work aims to reproduce these neuroprotective effects via the optogenetic activation of enteric (gastrointestinal) neurons to better understand mechanisms beyond the central nervous system that drive Parkinson’ s Disease. Because increased dopamine production is correlated with slower disease progression, we hypothesize that the neuroprotective effects of dopamine may be analogous to a “use-it-or-lose-it” model. By activating dopamine-generating neurons within the brain from the gut to explore the connectivity between the gastrointestinal and central nervous systems, we hope to both produce a more complete understanding of Parkinson’s Disease and to provide an easily-accessible potential therapeutic target.
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 electrical 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.