Creating and Using Tools to Discover More About the Brain

The possibilities in neuroscience research and neural engineering are endless, as there is still so much about the brain that we do not know. Tools can be created to help make amazing discoveries about the brain. For example, the Tadross lab created DART (drugs actively restricted by tethering) in order to deliver drugs to specific cells in the brain in order to discover new things about the function of specific neurons in the brain. This is accomplished by injecting a virus into an animal such as a mouse, waiting a few weeks to let the virus select cells of interest, and then injecting drugs that will only be able to be captured by the selected cells of interests. The use of DARTs in research can be helpful in the study of particular cells that are affected by neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.

I am working on two projects in the Tadross lab. The first project involves seeing how dopamine affects movement. This project involves injecting mice with various DARTs that each target dopamine receptors (each mouse receiving one DART), then using open field tests in which the mice are put into a box and their movement/behavior is observed for an hour. This is done in 3 trials for each mouse: 3 hours after the injection, 6 hours after the injection, and 24 hours after the injection. The movement will then be tracked using software and compared to a control in order to see if there is any abnormal movement and in turn if the drug actually affected the dopamine receptors and how its effect on the dopamine receptors change movement. Along with the trials, we will check to see if the neurons that were being targeted actually captured the drugs in order to assess if the drugs truly affected the mice’s movement. In this case, the effect of the DARTs will be able to mimic the effects of certain diseases on the brain, potentially giving new information for what exactly in the brain changes behavior. 

The second project that I am working on is building electrodes that can be used to measure the electrical activity of neurons in order to see how the electrical activity of neurons changes after they have been manipulated by DARTs. This will involve constructing the electrodes in a cleanroom, putting cultured mouse cells on the electrode, and using software to stimulate the neurons and view the intensity/frequency of the action potentials that occur as a result. This project will assess both the ability of the electrodes to properly measure electrical activity and the DART’s ability to alter the neurons. This could be used to see how the electrical activity changes due to neurological diseases, giving greater hints at what treatments may be most effective.

I’m grateful for being able to work on projects both testing the efficiency of a tool that has been created and creating a new tool. I’m very excited for what is to come!

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