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Valeria is a 4th-year Ph.D. Candidate from the Integrative and Translational Physiology (ITP) Research Concentration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from The University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. During her time at UPR Cayey, she participated in different student organizations including SACNAS, where she served as both president (2017-2018) and treasurer (2018-2019). In addition, Valeria also received multiple awards/fellowships during her undergraduate studies, including the Puerto Rico IDeA Network Biomedical Research Excellence (PRINBRE) Scholarship (2016-2017), Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliance For Minority Participation (PR-LSAMP) Scholarship (2017-2018) and Ford STEM UPR Alumni Association Scholarship (2018). At UIC, Valeria works under the mentorship of Dr. Pingwen Xu. During her graduate studies, she has received three fellowships, including Illinois-LSAMP Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) Fellowship (2019-2021), T32 Alcohol Research Training Fellowship (2021-2022), and American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship (2022-2024). When she is not doing lab work, Valeria enjoys exploring the beautiful City of Chicago and finding new places to eat.
Valeria's work consists of using optogenetic tools and neuronal tracing techniques to understand the role of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) signaling in the brain and elucidate the mechanisms by which ERα-expressing neurons regulate adipose tissue function and energy homeostasis. Her thesis project focuses on understanding ERα signaling in the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH, thermogenic center of the brain) and how ERαvlVMH-initiated circuits regulate adipose tissue metabolic adaptation. The overall goal of Valeria's project is to better understand the implications of brain estrogen signaling in obesity and metabolic syndrome.
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