Welcome to CienciaPR, an expert and resource network for all who are interested in science and Puerto Rico.
Different from the rest of the people in the field, my interest for Neuroscience was born in a little classroom surrounded by 3 to 5 year old children with Down syndrome. While there, I discovered that I want to dedicate my life’s work to studying neurological disorders. But my involvement in scientific research started later that year, when I began working in the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Cognition under the supervision of Dr. Sandra Peña de Ortiz at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. Dr. Peña de Ortiz is interested in how genes are regulated during cognitive processes and how the function of these genes participates in normal cognitive function, such as memory formation.
Two years later I co-authored a publication for “The Journal of Neuroscience” titled “An Inhibitor of DNA Recombination Processes Blocks Memory Consolidation, but not Reconsolidation, in Context Fear Conditioning”. As a RISE fellow, I had the opportunity to present this work at national and local scientific meetings: Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society (MCCS) and Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Conferences at Atlanta GA, Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) at Anaheim CA, and Puerto Rico Society for Neuroscience (PR SfN) Conference at Bayamón PR.
The next year, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease and my world came down. Knowing about a condition is so far from actually living it, it's an experience that makes you grow in patience and understanding. In 2006, a very close friend of mine died from Patau syndrome (trisomy 13). The next year, on the ninth of August 2007 my goddaughter was born with Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18). Two months later she died due to complications of the disease. All of these experiences are steps rather than obstacles in my life because they give me more to fight for.
As Albert Einstein said decades ago, “one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and sciences is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought”. Along with fellow scientists, I submerge myself in a world of knowledge and intuition to find the answers to questions that could lead to a better and long-lasting life.
Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. It advances the understanding of thought, emotion, and behavior. Learning requires the continued ability of the brain to establish new synaptic configurations and could be viewed as the continuation of the developmental process. Disrupting the normal balance between the stable fixation of memory representations, via the establishment of strong synaptic connections, and the generation of new potential presynaptic and postsynaptic sites for use in future learning experiences could explain the perseverative responses seen in pervasive developmental disorders, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as other neuropsychiatric disorders. This work holds great promise for understanding and treating Alzheimer, Patau syndrome, Edwards syndrome, Bipolar disorder, and other illnesses.
During the summers of 2007 and 2008 (2007 Amgen fellow and 2008 Leadership Alliance fellow), I participated in the Stanford Summer Research Program (SSRP). There I worked in Dr. William Mobley’s lab under the mentorship of Dr. Ahmad Salehi at the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences in the Stanford University Medical Center. My work there is part of a publication (November 2009) in “Science Translational Medicine”, with me as co-author, titled “Restoration of Norepinephrine-Modulated Contextual Memory in a Mouse Model of Down Syndrome”.
In August 2007 I was awarded with the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) fellowship and the Biotechnology Mentorship Initiative to Develop Scientist (BIOMINDS) fellowship from Amgen. As a MARC fellow I presented my work again in the MCCS and SFN conferences at San Diego CA, ABRCMS at Austin TX in the 2007 and at Orlando FL in the 2008, and at the Biomedical Research Training Center (BRTC) Conference at San Juan PR in the 2008.
Two years later, I finished my thesis for the MARC and BIOMINDS programs, I received my BS degree in Biology and I was accepted in the graduate program at the UPR-RP. In July, I was awarded with the Puerto Rico Louis Stroke Alliance for Minority Participation Bridge to the Doctorate Program (PR LS-AMP BDP) fellowship and in August I continue working on Dr. Peña’s lab. I had the opportunity of presenting my work at local and international meetings: the Annual Best Practices Conference at Ponce PR in both 2009 and 2010, in the Puerto Rico Interdisciplinary Scientific Meeting (PRISM) at Mayagüez PR in the 2010 and at Bayamón PR in the 2011, in the Transdisciplinary Scientific Meeting at San Juan PR in both 2010 and 2011, in the Lecture Course in Molecular and Cellular Cognition at Venice Italy in the 2010, and in International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) World Congress of Neuroscience at Florence Italy in the 2011. Finally, in the 2011 I was awarded with the IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence in Puerto Rico Fellowship and I was able to continue with my graduate studies and my research which I presented in national meetings: MCCS and SFN Conferences both held at Washington DC in the 2011.
As a recipient of these several fellowships (RISE, Amgen Scholars, MARC, BIOMINDS, Leadership Alliance, PR LS-AMP BDP, and IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence in Puerto Rico) I had the opportunity of mentoring undergraduate students. In December 2009 I had the privilege of been one of the ten students in the world and the only Puerto Rican that had the opportunity of participating in the Winter School in Molecular and Cellular Cognition at Zurich Switzerland. Right before I was told that my last fellowship was not going to be renew, I was preparing to publish as first author the results of my project titled “A DNA Inhibitor Blocks Remote Memory Formation as well as Context Fear Conditioning Induced-Mossy-Fiber-CA3 Hippocampal Synaptogenesis”.
Right now I'm continuing my PhD in Dr. Thomas Schikorski's lab at Universidad Central del Caribe where they have the only PhD program in Neurosciences in the island. There we study the morphology and function of brain synapses and their role in mental disorders. I am interested in understanding how synaptogenesis works in order to discover new treatments for cognitive disabilities and mental retardation. Upon earning my PhD in Neuroscience, I intend to pursue a post-doctoral position to become an independent researcher. My best friend and I have plans of building a treatment and research center of neurological-related conditions in Puerto Rico. We not only want to treat patients with various conditions, but also to educate them, their families and the community in general about their disposition and develop treatment options that will improve their quality of life.
I as a Puerto Rican (Hispanic/Latino), as a bilingual woman, and as the first member of her entire family to pursue an advanced career, will demonstrate that there’s NO obstacle in life for pursuing an advanced career.
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