Hello! My name is Lauren Charlton, and I am a rising senior studying neuroscience here at Pitt. To introduce my Brackenridge research project, I need to give a little background about my experiences. I am a pre-medical student who found myself working in a clinical environment closely with patients undergoing withdraw from drug or alcohol addiction. I often found myself in situations wishing I understood more about the neurological basis of what my patients were undergoing to better my care to these individuals. This interest drove me to begin research in the Translational Neuroscience Department under Dr. Torregrossa studying addiction through cortical pathways, or connections to other systems of the brain, and specifically it’s relationships to learning systems in rat models. My project will continue my labs work to further understand what parts of the brain are specifically activated when acquiring physical addition to cocaine as well as when we attempt to extinct these behaviors through cue extinction. Cue extinction therapy presents the stimulus associated with drug use, such as a particular place or trigger for drug use, repeatedly without the use of the drug. This helps to decrease behavior, and thus addiction. My research will help us better understand neurological connections to learning systems, knowledge that can be used to better improve this therapy. Addiction is a disease that is not just limited to the biological basis, but are connected to social, economic, and societal environments that impact drug use and treatment. Cue exposure therapy, made more effective by research, can serve as a low-cost and accessible treatment that may address many limitations in access to addiction treatments.
The Brackenridge helps me to pursue my goals as becoming a more compassionate and knowledgeable physician by giving me the resources to develop research skills as well as collaboration tools. Medicine is an intersection of humanities, communication, and obviously science but learning how to cross boundaries to better improve my individual goals, such as this research project, provides an opportunity for success. My major in neuroscience, minor in Chemistry, and certificates in Global Health and Conceptual Foundations of Medicine has provided me with the background knowledge to aid me in this research project. Apart from my academic pursuits, you can find me in the CrossFit gym coaching or working out in my position as the President of the CrossFit Club here at Pitt. In addition, I serve as the Co-Director of Camp Kesem at Pitt that works directly with local children impacted by a parent’s cancer through a free week-long summer camp and yearlong activities—a club I will have an opportunity to share with the fellows in a presentation this summer!