“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” – Rumi
I’m a Ph.D. Candidate in Neuroscience in the lab of Dr. Stephanie White at UCLA.
Broadly, I am interested in developing the zebra finch songbird into a translational drug discovery model for disorders of communication, such as in autism and intellectual disability. Zebra finch research is the only experimental approach that can directly interrogate the role of activity-dependent transcriptional regulation in learned vocal communication, and this may be the last missing piece of the puzzle needed to make progress on treatments for developmental disorders. Given recent advances in zebra finch genetics, and that over 1000 human intellectual disability genes are dynamically regulated by learned vocalization in songbirds, the zebra finch system is uniquely poised to contribute new gains toward helping human patients suffering from communication deficits.
My current project focuses on understanding how a bioactive glycoside found in ginseng, ginsenoside Rh2, targets the brain-enriched microRNA miR-128 to enhance learned vocal communication. Early in my doctoral work I discovered that ginsenoside Rh2 rescues sequencing deficits in songbirds that were isolated from conspecific song during their developmental critical period. Oral administration of ginsenoside Rh2 robustly decreases miR-128 in the striatal song nucleus Area X. Given that miR-128 increases over development and peaks in adulthood, I hypothesized that it may govern transcriptional programs that constrains critical period plasticity for vocal learning. To test whether decreased miR-128 in Area X is sufficient to enhance vocal learning I knocked down miR-128 during development. I found that decreasing miR-128 significantly enhanced vocal learning. To my knowledge this project is the first to identify a pharmacological and genetic target for enhancing learned vocal communication.
My long-term vision for my career includes identifying more targets like miR-128, developing novel drugs to treat disorders of communication, conducting clinical trials in humans, and ultimately working to bring effective treatments to market for the underserved autism and intellectual disability patient populations.
My LinkedIn can be found here.