Hi everyone, my name is Sarah Berg and I am excited to participate in the Health Sciences Research Fellowship this summer. I am a rising senior majoring in neuroscience with minors in political science and chemistry. Aside from research, I am passionate about most things nerdy, from music theory to tabletop roleplaying games.
This summer, I am working on a project looking into how activity affects the survival of immature olfactory sensory neurons. These neurons, which detect odors, are continuously generated from stem cells in the olfactory epithelium. They project to the olfactory bulb and connect with neurons there to send along information for processing. After olfactory sensory neurons are generated, they mature over the course of about a week. However, my mentor, Dr. Claire Cheetham, has previously observed a low survival rate of the immature neurons, with many dying off within fourteen days of their generation. The survival of these cells depends on the successful formation of synapses with olfactory bulb neurons, and this synapse formation is dependent on activity; a cell that is inactive is less likely to form a synapse and to survive. Because of this, we believe that odor enrichment will encourage immature neurons to integrate into the olfactory system and increase their survival rate. I am studying a possible way to enhance the integration and survival of immature olfactory sensory neurons through odor enrichment, achieved by placing various odors in the cage of a group of mice. I will also research if odor deprivation, achieved through unilateral naris occlusion, has the opposite effect and decreases the survival of these neurons.
A reason why diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are so hard to treat is that much of the nervous system does not have the ability to continuously regenerate neurons. Most neurons are generated before or shortly after birth, not into adulthood. The olfactory system is one of the few places in the nervous system that naturally undergoes neuroregeneration, so investigating the survival of olfactory neurons arising from stem cells is important for developing methods of repair following brain damage or neurodegenerative disease. Stem cell treatments need new neurons to survive and to become a working part of a larger, complex system, so it is essential to first understand a part of the body that can accomplish this on its own.
I am planning on attending graduate school for a PhD in neuroscience, but I am definitely keeping my options open! I anticipate that HSRF will prepare me for pursuing research professionally through discussions and workshops about navigating scholarships, graduate school, and effective communication in the STEM fields. Additionally, HSRF has allowed me to dedicate the summer to focusing on this project, which will further my skills in the lab and knowledge of the subject. I am excited to hear about other projects and learn from those students as well!