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Presidential Fellowship in Collaborative Neuroscience

The Provost's Office, in collaboration with the UVA Brain Institute, is proud to support the presidential graduate fellowship program to promote cross-Grounds collaborative neuroscience research. 

We seek to bring together neuroscientists from different divisions (e.g., College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, and School of Engineering & Applied Sciences) to tackle important questions and perform transformative work that will differentiate our research enterprise. Projects may be on any subject related to neuroscience. Evidence of prior collaboration is not required, and the creation of new partnerships is encouraged. 

Each year, rising 3rd or 4th year graduate students are eligible to apply. Proposals should provide evidence that the student will be jointly guided by at least 2 faculty members in a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment on a synergistic project with the potential to generate transformative science. Details regarding the application process and eligibility are released annually prior to the application period. 

Applications for our 2024 fellows cohort are currently under review. 

2023 Fellows: 

Mona Fariborzi - Psychology | Mentors: Adema Ribic, PhD, Psychology; JC Cang, PhD, Biology & Psychology

Mona Fariborzi is a 3rd year PhD student in the Department of Psychology who works in the lab of Dr. Adema Ribic. Her research aims to understand how learning changes the brain. Under the mentorship of Dr. Ribic and Dr. JC Cang, she is using in-vivo two-photon microscopy techniques to image the same dendritic branches and synapses in the visual cortex across learning to understand the synaptic mechanism of visual learning. Furthermore, she is using circuit manipulations to determine the role of a prefrontal to visual cortex circuit during learning. Mona's research will help establish a basic understanding of how learning remodels sensory areas which can be used to better understand what may be dysfunctional in cases of impaired learning.

Lizzie Godschall - Biology | Mentors: Ali Güler, PhD, Biology; John Campbell, PhD, Biology

Lizzie Godschall is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Biology Department, co-mentored by Drs. Ali Güler and John Campbell. Her work focuses on understanding the hypothalamic neural networks underlying hunger and satiety signaling. She has used transcriptomics to understand discrete hypothalamic regions' response to different feeding conditions, informing how specific populations respond to energy surplus and deficits. Her recent work involves engineering mice and virally-delivered tools to understand how obesity and type II diabetes treatments activate and alter the signaling pathways in these hypothalamic populations, along with behaviors and metabolic processes, leading to reduced hunger and weight loss.

Analia Marzoratti - Education | Mentors: Tanya Evans, PhD, Education; Jess Connelly, PhD, Psychology; Kevin Pelphrey, PhD, Neurology; Steve Boker, PhD, Psychology

Analia Marzoratti is a PhD student working with Dr. Tanya Evans in the School of Education and Human Development. She is interested in using measures from biology and neuroscience to examine how specific aspects of children's early environments (such as those linked to poverty) can affect their cognitive strategies and learning processes. Her long-term goal is to identify how we can translate knowledge about the brain gained in a laboratory to help promote educational practices that are shaped around accommodating children's diverse learning needs. Her current research centers on evaluating the role of child-parent social interactions in children's early mathematical problem-solving. She will examine the extent to which children's performance during a joint math task is predicted by measures associated with child-parent interaction quality, including alignment between child and parent EEG activity, epigenetic changes to children's and parent's endogenous oxytocin function, and observational measures of behavioral attunement. By characterizing the interrelationships between these measures and their relative predictive value, she will better inform those researchers and practitioners seeking to benefit children's math learning of the methodologies available. 

Nick Natale - Neuroscience | Mentors: John Lukens, PhD, Neuroscience; Bill Petri, MD, PhD, Medicine

Nick Natale is a PhD candidate in the Department of Neuroscience who works in the laboratories of Dr. John Lukens and Dr. William Petri. Although SARS-CoV-2 is often described as a respiratory virus, Nick's research provides a different perspective of how SARS-CoV-2 invades the host. He investigates the neuroimmune underpinnings of coronavirus disease (COVID)-19-induced olfactory dysfunction. In the Biosafety Level 3 facility, Nick uses a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV-2 virus to recapitulate severe COVID-19 observed in humans and leverages spatial transcriptomics, immunofluorescence confocal microscopy, transgenic reporter mice, and olfactometry to assess alterations in the olfactory system during SARS-CoV-2 infection. As SARS-CoV-2 becomes increasingly acquainted with the mammalian olfactory system, this research pursuit will help prepare us for future sarbecovirus pandemics and the potential neurological-PASC (post-acute sequalae of SARS) epidemics that follow.

Jonathon Sewell - Biology | Mentors: Bettina Winckler, PhD, Cell Biology; Chris Deppmann, PhD, Biology; Eli Zunder, PhD, Biomedical Engineering 

Jonathon Sewell is a PhD candidate in the Cell and Developmental Biology program, working in the Winckler and Deppmann labs. Combining the expertise of these two labs, Jonathon is investigating the long-distance trafficking and intercellular communication of target-derived trophic signals within the sympathetic circuit of the peripheral nervous system during development. His research explores the potential role of neuron-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) as a novel trophic signaling platform within the circuit. In collaboration with Dr. Eli Zunder, Jonathon employs single-cell mass cytometry to identify signaling changes in recipient cells in response to neuron-derived EVs, uncovering EV-dependent mechanisms influencing cell survival. Additionally, he uses primary neuronal cell cultures to study EV uptake mechanisms crucial for successful intercellular communication and recipient cell survival. Jonathon's research aims to establish if target-derived signals are communicated between neurons within the sympathetic circuit via EVs, which will advance our understanding of target-dependent circuit refinement.

Katya Stepanova - Biology | Mentors: Chris Deppmann, PhD, Biology; John Campbell, PhD, Biology

Katya Stepanova is currently engaged in a captivating research project, co-mentored by the esteemed labs of Drs. Christopher Deppmann and John Campbell. Her work centers on deciphering how different cell types respond to nerve damage, with a specific focus on Schwann Cells, crucial in supporting neurons after injuries. Building on prior discoveries from the Deppmann group, it has been observed that Schwann Cells exhibit a unique transient cell state termed 'Damage Associated Schwann Cell' (DASC) in response to injury. This state exists between the well-characterized uninjured Schwann Cells and the regenerative Repair Schwann Cells that emerge following neuronal damage. Katya's present efforts are devoted to unraveling the molecular signature of the putative DASC using cutting-edge single-cell transcriptomics techniques, drawing on the expertise of the Campbell Laboratory.