BIAC Internship: Weeks 9 and 10

We are now working on post-walk tasks, which mostly revolve around sending out thank-you postcards and letters.

Last week, I mostly worked on the post cards.  It was quite frustrating to redesign the post card five times, as I mentioned in the most recent lab meeting, but the energy is necessary in order to portray the organization in a favorable light.  It’s all aesthetic and marketing.

This week, I worked on the thank-you letters.  In the process, I learned how to do mail merge, which is quite tedious but also quite helpful.  Eric, our temporary tech person, sat down with me and colorfully explain how to use mail merge and why it works like it does, which was so helpful!

The next thank-you task is for our volunteers.  Christina and I have done some brainstorming, but it’ll need a little more work.  We’re going for a “cutesy” theme, hoping to put a puppy on the card or something like it.

As for my final project, I have contacted Hartford Hospital to see if they are open to sharing (anonymous) data in regards to how their patients acquire brain injuries.  We’ll see how that turns out.

Stress on the Brain

Chloe White
Professor Bell Lecture
11.7.2015 !
Stress on the Brain: The HPA Axis and Behavior !
Margaret Bell, a researcher on Neuropsychology and Biological Psychology at the
University of Texas at Austin, came to Trinity to give a lecture titled “Stress on the Brain: The
HPA Axis and Behavior.” Since she may potentially be a professor at Trinity in upcoming years,
Ms. Bell gave this lecture in the way that she would teach a class, so students could get a taste of
her teaching style. In her lecture, she diagrammed two main points: how the HPA axis is
organized, and what negative feedback is/how it works with the HPA axis.
In order to address the HPA system, we first need to talk about the basic endocrine system
in the human body. There are two main types of hormones that act in the human body: protein
hormones and steroid hormones. Steroid hormones, made up of fatty substances such as lipids
and cholesterol, can move right through the phospholipid bilayer of a cell. Hormones that cannot
do this, such as protein hormones, must use membrane receptors in order to get inside of the cell,
and nuclear receptors to then get into the nucleus of that cell. These nuclear receptors activate
2nd messengers in the cell. The membrane receptors activate the creation of mRNA and can
change protein expression: basically, they can change gene expression. The changes that occur
from these two receptors combined cause changes in the brain and in behavior.
The HPA axis is a set of interactions, signals, and feedback systems between the
Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and Adrenal Cortex (hence the name HPA). The main function of
this axis controls the body’s reaction to stress, however it also influences processes such as
digestion and the immune system (functions that are influenced when the body goes through a
stress response). Each of the endocrine glands in the axis releases hormones and substances onto
the next. The hypothalamus releases Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH) onto the Anterior
Pituitary, which then releases Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) onto the Adrenal Cortex.
The Adrenal Cortex releases multiple glucocorticoid hormones (mostly cortisol) in response to
receiving the ACTH- however, these glucocorticoid hormones then act on the hypothalamus and
the pituitary in a negative feedback cycle.
A negative feedback cycle is often compared to a thermostat. A thermostat works because
it knows what it’s supposed to be at (set point), it senses the environment around it, and makes
changes to adjust to the environment. Our body works this way as well. When the Adrenal
Cortex receives ACTH from the pituitary, it starts producing cortisol. However, if it starts
receiving too much ACTH, the cortisol will start acting on both the hypothalamus and the
anterior pituitary, signaling them to stop. It does this by binding with receptors on these two
glands, which notifies them to stop producing CRH and ACTH.
Ms. Bell then had us do some problems in order to apply these theories on a real-life
study. The study concerned two different types of mother mice: High LG-ABN and Low LGABN.
High LG stands for High Licking/Grooming, meaning this mother paid a lot of attention to
her newborns and created a lot of space for them. On the other hand, Low LG means the
opposite: she didn’t pay a lot of attention to her newborns. The study was looking at how
offspring of these two different types of mothers would respond to stress. Overall, it was found
that offspring of High LG mothers responded to stress with less of a chemically-stressed
reaction, and they also returned to their baseline chemical levels quicker than Low LG offspring.

Brain Injury Walk for Thought

Chloe White
Walk for Thought Blog Post
11.3.2015 !
What did you learn about brain injury? !
When thinking about brain injury, I often think about people who have become severely
debilitated and who can no longer function or care for themselves. I believe that this image
readily comes to mind because this is often what is portrayed in the media. When reading the
news or watching TV, the stories that are most often published are the ones which have the most
horrific results. However, this year at the Brain Injury Alliance’s annual Walk for Thought I had a
very different experience.
At the Walk for Thought, there were two different T-Shirts being handed out: yellow and
orange. The yellow shirt stood for survivors, and the orange shirts were given to everybody else.
I was amazed at how many yellow shirts were given out. An overwhelming amount of survivors
came out to the walk, as well as family members, friends and caretakers. I was surprised that so
many of them seemed, for lack of a better word, normal. More than once I was surprised to be
handing a yellow shirt to someone who I had assumed was a caretaker. (Disclaimer: I am not
saying that although some survivors seemed “normal,” they are not dealing with debilitations
every day).
To sum up, what I really learned about brain injury is that it can present itself in so many
different ways. Throughout everyone who came through my pre-registration table, they all
seemed to have one thing in common: they had all outwardly accepted that their brain injury was
something they had to live with, and they were ready to both fight for and support others who
were in the same boat that they were


Lizzy Foley


Neuroscience Across The Curriculum


Young Blood for Old Brains” lecture by Tony Wyss-Coray, Ph.D.



Sitting in the Life Science’s Center, Tony Wyss-Coray listened patiently as my fellow students and I working in Professor Masino and Ruskin’s lab talked about our own research projects. He asked questions that were both scholarly and though provoking, as expected from as Professor at Stanford University. Right across from him sat his daughter, Livia Wyss, a junior neuroscience major who has been working with ketogentic diet and it’s effect on inflammation in rodent models. Wyss-Coray listened, enthusiastically, to his daughter speak before steering the conversation towards his own life as a scientist.

Wyss-Coray explained that in his home of Switzerland, he grew up fascinated by science, most specifically by plants. However, he realized at a young age that his interest in plants was more of a pastime than a potential career. Instead, Wyss-Coray was swayed to study immunology by a particularly captivating professor. In terms of our scientific understanding of immunology, Wyss-Coray could not have begun research at a more fascinating time than the AIDS pandemic, which was initially recognized in the early 1980s. In 1993, his research on HIV related dementia led him to American where worked at Scripps Research Institute and later Stanford University’s medical school where he works currently as a Professor of Neurology. Today he studies blood plasma and it’s role in Alzheimer’s disease, which he talked about during his lecture this past Tuesday.

Wyss-Coray began his talk by introducing a study of parabiosis in which the vascular system of an old mouse was surgically attached to that of a young mouse. The artificial joining allowed for the blood of the young mouse to flow to the old mouse and vice versa. Remarkably, it was found that the brain of the old mouse looked younger when exposed to the younger environment. In such context, the term younger is defined as the creation of new neurons, higher synaptic activity, higher levels of genes involved in memory, and less inflammation in the brain.

When applied to humans, the parabiotic experiment opened the doors for many other age related studies. Wyss-Coray stated that as human’s age neurodegeneration is inevitable. Yet, it seems that infusing the blood or cord plasma of young humans into older humans with Alzheimer’s disease helps temporarily rejuvenate the brain by increasing neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity most noticeably in the hippocampus, a region associated with learning and memory. It seems to Wyss-Coray such neural transformation is due to the growth factors within the young plasma.

The research suggests that the human brain at every age is malleable. Such idea is an optimistic concept as it suggests that certain parameters such as plasma growth factors can help improve cognitive ability and delay neural degeneration. Although Wyss-Coray recognizes that the currently fountain of youth concept is unattainable, his research suggests that there are potential ways to delay the process of neural degeneration and prolong cognitive youth even as you age. Overall, Wyss-Coray’s research is ground breaking as it provides a possible way to deal with pervasive degenerative diseases and improve the quality of life for many individuals.

Young Blood

Tommy Hum-Hyder

Neuroscience Across the Curriculum

Novermber 2, 2015


Young Blood for Old Brains


Last week, Dr. Wyss-Coray of the Stanford spoke to us about his recently published work in Nautre magazine that further explored past research revolving around the idea of parabiosis. Parabiosis techniques began with the surgical joining of old and young mice, and it was discovered that old muscle was able to be rejuvenated with attachment to the young mice. Subsequent studies were then able to determine that other tissues could achieve the same effect. Dr. Wyss-Coray then began thinking of applications of this parabiosis to aging. As we age, synapses prune, neurons die, and the stability of our genomes changes, as the ends of chromosomes shorted and methylation occurs. Given that blood connects all organs, Wyss-Coray and his team wanted to see how aging affected the brains without performing biopsies. To do this, he measured one hundred proteins of cellular language in an effort to find the signature of aging, or the correlates that commonly occur in aging mice. Among these correlates, were proteins associated with inflammation, such as CCL11 or Eotaxin. With this knowledge, the team then transferred plasma from young mice to old mice and found increased memory function and that some of the correlates of aging decreased, which seems to suggest that there is something about young blood that can lead to a decrease in aging. The experiment was then redone, but this time with human plasma into aged mice, that were specially made to accept human plasma. They were then able to note that the greatest changes were in levels of CAMIIK an and c-fos.

Tuesdays with Morrie

“As you grow, you learn more. Aging is not just decay…it’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand that you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.” –Morrie Schwartz

On Wednesday October 14th Playhouse on Park brought to life once again the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. I started off with a quote from the play because I found it enlightening that a man suffering from a disease that actually speeds up the decay of his own body could change his perspective and use the unfortunate events of life to better understand himself, the disease, and the purpose of life. Morrie Schwartz was a 78-year-old sociology professor at Brandeis University who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) during the summer of 1994. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, nicknamed after one of baseball’s greatest, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that targets the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (“Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Fact Sheet”). Over time motor neurons in the body start to die and the brain’s ability to stimulate control of muscles is lost. Without this connection “sclerosis,” or hardening, of the muscles occur creating the inability to walk, speak, eat, and in Morrie Schwartz’s case eventually breathe. ALS is a debilitating disease that effects people of all race and ethic background and does not have a proven cause. It is the most common neuromuscular disease worldwide; however, there is still a copious amount of information about the disease that remains a mystery. Strides have been made in the past twenty years regarding ALS research identifying specific enzyme mutations associated with the disease. Due to the fact that the disease has been difficult to identify time has not been dedicated to intensively researching the disease until recently. People like Morrie Schwarts who use their own obstacles in life to help progress knowledge and spread awareness aid in the development of further research studies regarding ALS and hopefully one-day help pinpoint the cause and cure for the disease.


“Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Fact Sheet.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institutes of Health, 18 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.



Tuesdays with Morrie

Elizabeth DiRico

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie, the play adaptation Based on the true story of Morrie Schwartz is the story of a Brandies university professor of sociology dying of ALS and his relationship with a former student. As Morrie walks the finale bridge between life and death he shares life lessons with his student and consequently reconnects him with what is truly important in life. In fact, Morrie Schwartz shares his life lessons along with his dying process with the world through a series of interviews conducted by Ted Koppel.

On a deeper neurological level, the play illustrates the complexities and devastation inflicted by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis more commonly known as ALS. ALS is characterized by the degradation of cells responsible for controlling voluntary movement, leading to paralysis and ultimately death. Thanks to recent campaigns such as the ALS ice bucket challenge, there is a high degree of public awareness surrounding this debilitating disease. Based on my comprehension of ALS on a cellular level I previously believed that I had a good understanding of the disease. However, witnessing Morrie’s battle first hand illustrated many facets that I had previously overlooked. Most notably, this was exemplified by Morries maintained mental capacity as his body deteriorated. This is one of the more gruesome aspects of the disease considering that ALS is a motor neuron disease it does not impair cognitive function. Instead it impends the mechanism responsible from sending signal from the brain to the muscles, inhibiting voluntary movement.

To date, mutations in 29 genes have been implicated in causing ALS, yet these mutations account for only one-third of total cases. A tremendous amount of research continues to be conducted to better understand ALS as well as prevent this devastating disease. Nearly twenty years after his death, Morrie’s story is still being told and he dose his part to spread awareness about ALS and continues to inspire his disciples to live a happy and meaningful life.

Next Big Thing

Current Issues and Scientific Progress put Pressure on Technology and Human Pride

Nathaniel Thiemann



Just over a week ago on October 3rd there was a Connecticut Forum meeting at the Bushnell theatre to discuss the next big things on the horizon of science. This discussion focused on more than the next big technological advancement, it also addressed up and coming problems and concepts that scientists are trying to come to terms with. These problems included climate change, education reform, and much more. In accordance with the problems just listed, the rest of the discussion revolved around coming to grips with the limitations that prevent the scientific community from solving them. Inevitably the conversation always approached the question of how can we use science and technology to find solutions?

Think about the implications of that question, it’s not even a question that humans will turn to computer technology in order to address the problems of the future. Humans have become reliant on computers to process the huge amounts of data we generate. Science in turn has become inexorably linked to large data that is generated and analyzed by computers. While humans are currently a necessary component of data collection and analysis, the threshold for self-sufficient computers is ever approaching. One example of computers approaching self-sufficiency is Google’s driverless car, which appears to be very close to hitting public roads. However, as driverless cars and artificial intelligence continue to draw closer to reality there is one important factor to consider.

This important factor is the method in which we are teaching computers to collect and process data. Unlike humans, computers cannot analyze data beyond the parameters set in their code. That is to say they cannot apply salience to discrete observations they make that have not been made important to them by their code. This limitation is why humans are still a necessary cog in the data analysis that many supercomputers conduct today. Since humans are the ones programming/teaching these computers, an obvious syllogism can then be made. Given the fact that we still do not have a complete understanding of our own central nervous system, then we cannot program another entity to have something comparable to the human mind. At this point some may make references to recent work showing computers with the amazing potential to learn. However, while we continue to make great strides in computer programming and learning, we are also approaching the limit of our own human understanding.

How then do we address our shortfall of understanding regarding our own mind? To date most technological advances have come from humanity’s ability to observe, adapt, and overcome. The inspiration for much of today’s most advanced technology can be traced back to some source found in the natural world. The combustion engine has a 4 chambered design used to power a machine, which is analogous to the human heart. The internet and computers run on a feedback system that emulates the human brain. More examples could be made, but the point is we draw inspiration from our surroundings, and innovate it to suit our purposes. This process has been largely successful, as proved by the current luxuries that people today enjoy as a result of our ingenuity.



I think the solution to the conundrum of modeling an artificial intelligence lies in long term research of the human brain. We are advancing in our knowledge of the brain and technological capability almost daily. These advancements are working in tandem with each to further our understanding of the mechanisms that drive us and the world around us. In a way the process by which we conduct our research is becoming a feedback system itself. Once we have a question we get an answer, which then propagates another question. Sometimes the solutions we find to our questions may be unexpected, like potentially storing information in cellular DNA rather than flash drives to improve data storage. However, as I’ve already stated, many of humanity’s best ideas and inventions haven’t been intuitively thought up by someone. Therefore, we shouldn’t look to draw upon human intellect to solve our problems, but look at pre-existing systems in nature that we can innovate upon.

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing Review

Amina Kureshi

The Bushnell recently hosted a forum to discuss “cutting edge technology and innovations that will change our lives” titled “The Next Big Thing”. Fareed Zakaria, global thinker, journalist, and author and Joi Ito, technology visionary and director of the MIT media lab consisted of the panelists. In terms of the progression of the role of technology in the future, we can envision technology being used to store information which would otherwise be rotely memorized by human professionals. For example, a physician can differ to technology for statistics and DSM criteria for illnesses. This would allow the physician more time to spend with the patient to do tasks which cannot be different to technology, and require human interaction, such as diagnostics. An important point was brought up about the uniqueness and complexity of diagnostics, which can only be reserved to the human mind. In order to teach students, a medical school professor at Yale University ensured his students learned to interpret artwork, as the skills apply to diagnostics as well. By passing off statistics, data, and concrete information off to technology, we are free to learn the skills which only our highly functioning brains can accomplish in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the current education system, which rewards students on their ability to follow directions and demonstrate their knowledge based on standardized exams. Ito brought up an interesting point about his ideals for education focusing on the “four P’s”: peers, passion, projects, and play. This encourages creativity, self-motivation, problem based learning (projects), and peer-peer learning. The advantage of peer to peer learning is that it allows students to play the role of the teacher in one scenario and the student in another scenario, which reinforces learning. This type of education will create the future generations of workers, which will take advantage of the use of technology, to which concrete details would be attributed. Indeed, this gives merit to the Scientific American article titled, “Why Neuroscience Needs Hackers” which would require creative thinking which cannot yet be taken over by artificial intelligence.

Zakaria and Ito also had this to say about the future: true poverty, such as living on less than a dollar a day, will no longer exist (though it was always exist relative to other economic classes). In terms of populating Mars, Kakaria responded with the point that if we have the means to populate Mars, then we surely have the means to address global warming here on our home plant. However, the major obstacle in our way is affordably desalinating water but this cannot be done using fossil fuels, as it would consume too much energy. Therefore, an alternative source of energy must be used, one which can generate a lot of energy cheaply. This is where the ingenuity which will drive our development comes in to play.

Many various points were brought up such as the vagus nerve hypothesis, the meaning of humanity and its role in technology, and even genetic engineering. As expected of a forum, the discussion took us to many different places across the world, across time, and across disciplines. These forums will expose you to many new and different ideas and will cause you to question the direction of our future, and in that respect, it is worth it to attend these events. I would caution that this event does require your focus; if you are planning on attending a similar event, be sure that you have gotten a good night’s sleep, eaten and used the restroom before settling in to an interesting evening.

Douglas Coulter PhD

Tommy Hum-Hyder

Prof. Raskin

Neuroscience Across the Curriculum

September 30, 2015


Last week, Douglas Coulter, PhD, a Trinity alumnus, spoke about his research on epilepsy using epiflourescence imaging to monitor changes in voltage in areas of the brain. Dr. Coulter also spoke of the benefits of a Trinity degree, stressed the importance of taking a range of classes and interests, and always following your interests. Epilepsy is a blanket term given to the neurological disorder in which an individual has a seizure. During a seizure, the normal asynchronous firing of a neuron is interrupted with a period of abnormal, excessive, or synchronous firing of neurons. The resulting symptoms can range from uncontrollable jerking movements to a period of time in which an individual cannot respond to stimuli. The bulk of Dr. Coulter’s research focuses upon the role of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus or the amino acid neurotransmitter glutamate. Currently, the cause of epilepsy is unknown, so Dr. Coulter uses a mouse model of epilepsy and stains certain neurons and watches them fire to search for abnormal levels of neuronal firing or neurons firing in large accordance with one another. Presently, the direct mechanism of epilepsy is unknown; however Dr. Coulter has discovered a connection between decreased inhibition of GABAergic neurons within the dentate gyrus.