Hi, hello, greetings, what's the hap? Welcome to my blog!
My name is Matt Thompson and I'm a rising senior at Clark University, interning at the Center for Comparative NeuroImaging (CCNI) at UMass Memorial Medical School. I'm doing so through funding from a Barth Scholarship, which I thoroughly appreciate. I started my internship experience in mid-May (the week after finals ended), and I apologize for waiting so long to start this blog. I mostly procrastinated because I'm entirely clueless about blogging and needed to prepare myself emotionally. Am I linking things too much? Don't bother clicking on that link. Does anyone actually read these? Feel free to comment with any feedback, anonymous reader.
Now that the formalities are finished, I can talk about what I'm actually passionate about: brain research. The CCNI studies the brain, cognition, and behavior using primarily fMRI technology, behavioral tests, and biochemical analysis. At the Center, neuroscientists and psychiatrists study a range of neurobiological topics, including ADHD, addiction, schizophrenia, and maternal behavior. My colleagues at the CCNI conduct both animal and human studies, but my research deals with animal models using rats primarily (hence the title of the blog).
Here's some of the little buggers
My role is to help with ongoing studies and conduct a few of my own, bridging the gap between the ADHD studies and the ongoing addiction research at the CCNI. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric disorder which affects roughly 6-7% of children worldwide and has significant downstream effects on learning, memory, and cognition. Individuals with ADHD are roughly 2.65 times more likely to use nicotine (generally in the form of cigarettes) than those without the disorder. Why? Good question. That's one of the things I plan to study.
Here's some science (pro tip: skip this paragraph if you don't care about science). Some studies show that in low doses, nicotine can improve cognitive functioning and boost memory performance. Nicotine serves as an agonist of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the brain. This receptor is present all over the brain, but most importantly is found within the prefrontal cortex (associated with higher cognitive functioning and planning) and the hippocampus (associated with learning and memory). It is also involved in the dopaminergic reward pathway, which is likely to be the reason that it's considered one of the most addictive drugs.
Where do the rats come into play? Another great question. It's rather unethical to take out people's brains and look at them (and I'm quite unqualified), but that can be done using rats. Pro tip: if you're unequivocally, irrefutably against using animals for brain research, don't read this blog. I'm working now with a strain of rats called spontaneously hypertensive rats which display ADHD behaviors, such as impulsivity and hyperactivity. That way, I can study the disorder and nicotine addiction in a slightly more ethical way.
I'll continue to blog about what I've been doing for the past month in the lab, and maybe I'll get more of a grasp about what this whole blogging thing is about! Thanks for joining, anonymous reader, and I hope you enjoy what I have to say.
I struggled coming up with a title for this blog post, so I settled simply on "Introduction." Each scientific paper published in a journal begins with a section titled "Introduction," so I thought it was fitting. My goal for the summer is to come up with more clever blog post titles.