Stephanie Fedorchak, a student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program was recently selected as a Neuroscience T32 fellow. She is currently in the lab of Dr. Carie Boychuk. Her co-mentor is Dr. Teppei Fujikawa.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the goal of the Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award (T32) fellowship is “to prepare qualified predoctoral and/or postdoctoral trainees for careers that have a significant impact on the health-related research needs of the nation.”
Fedorchak explained that at the end of summer, students presented their research and she was one of three students that were chosen for this prestigious award. Her project for the T32 looks at neural projections to the pancreas.
“The pancreas controls glucose metabolism. When people get Type II diabetes, there’s serious dysregulation of pancreatic function,” she said. “We’re working on finding out exactly which neural pathways regulate pancreatic function so we can target those for therapies.”
So far, she has finished her first round of retrograde neuronal tracing from the pancreas. Her first results confirmed brain regions already known to regulate pancreatic function.
“In addition, the tracing study indicated there may be some interesting brain regions that no one’s really looked at yet in the context of pancreatic regulation. We can use this information to guide our research.”
Her next step used Cre-lox technology to trace from specific types of pancreatic cells, starting with alpha cells. Pancreatic alpha cells release glucagon, a key metabolic hormone, and are hyperactive in Type II diabetes.
“We started with verifying that the Cre-dependent virus was functional since our lab hadn’t used this virus before. It was a few new steps for me because I’d never done virus validation before,” she said.
Once verifying the virus, she used it to trace neural projections to pancreatic alpha cells. Her results so far have given her and her co-mentors ideas about how to target neural regulation of pancreatic secretion in their future experiments.
The fellowship lasts until Aug 31, 2020 and afterwards she will be working on her next grant.
“The Neuroscience discipline helps train us to write for F grants and one of my goals this year is to write for a F31 which is for predoctoral students.”
Fedorchak explains that she has really enjoyed being at UT Health San Antonio.
“Everyone has been helpful and this program emphasizes on helping its students with what they are doing. I came straight out of undergrad so it was nice to have that guidance,” she said.