My research focuses on the development and application of tools and workflows for multi-scale multi-modal correlated volume microscopies and three-dimensional volume reconstruction to unravel synaptic geometry.
Ph.D., Medical Sciences: Anatomy, Cell Biology, and Neuroscience, University of Nebraska Medical Center
B.S., Natural Sciences, The University of Alabama
Circuit Neuroscience and Nanoneuroscience
At the University of Kansas (KU), my original appointment as Senior Scientist and Director of the Microscopy and Analytical Imaging Resources Core Laboratory (MAI) was effective May 27, 2015. As of August 18, 2016, my KU appointment is equally (50/50) divided between that of Director of MAI and Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the School of Pharmacy. As MAI Director, I am responsible for MAI operations, services, and personnel. As Professor, I am responsible for research, teaching, and service.
As MAI Director, my goal is to meet the needs of current and future users and to develop the MAI into a regional and national center that assists in accelerating the development and dissemination of cutting edge imaging technologies for basic, translational, and clinical research (see MAI bio-resource technology in discussion of research goal).
I bring to the MAI experience in successfully administering research projects (i.e., hiring and managing staff, managing regulatory issues [animal and human use and experimentation; laboratory and chemical safety], developing balanced and fiscally responsible budgets), collaborating with other researchers, developing research grant proposals, and in writing and peer-reviewing publications and extended abstracts. As a result of prior administrative experience, I am aware of the importance of frequent communication among project members and of constructing a realistic development plan, timeline, and budget. Prior experiences also taught me to seek other’s expertise when needed, and I have recently done so by seeking the assistance of the School of Business Entrepreneurship Program in developing a business plan for the MAI.
As a faculty member, my research goal is to decipher a “gap-junction-coupled motor pattern-generating neural microcircuit” that: consists of a small number of gap-junction-coupled neurons forming unique patterns; underlies an innate behavior; is usually inflexible; and is triggered by a stimulus.
Serving as principal investigator (PI), co-PI, participant, or collaborator of university and National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded competitive grant awards assisted me in laying and continuing to build the foundation required to achieve my long-term research and MAI bio-technology resource goal by: 1) developing new functional nano-materials that span spatial domains from sub-nanometer to microns; 2) enhancing existing and developing new methods to use those nano-materials to selectively label neural cells and the protein network that constitutes the cytomatrix at the pre-synaptic and post -synaptic active zone of “mixed” synapses, a juxtaposition of chemical and electrical (i.e., gap junction) synaptic components associated with the identifiable neurons; 3) improving existing and developing new tissue contrast reagents and techniques; 4) developing imaging methods for high-resolution three-dimensional (3-D) photon-based and high-throughput 3-D electron-based microscopies to collect and disseminate 3-D teravoxel or petavoxel image data; 5) testing computer algorithms that can reveal complex patterns and relationships; and 6) using as a “reference species” the adult Western Mosquitofish Gambusia affinis (Mosquitofish), a species that has unique advantages and is ideally suited for “mapping” a gap-junction-coupled motor pattern-generating neural microcircuit and for testing and refining novel tools and methods. I develop quantitative immuno-correlative photon- and electron-based imaging technologies required to image and analyze in 3-D the nano-scale membrane organization of mixed synapses’ pre-and post-synaptic membrane proteins.
The above-described approaches have resulted in productive research projects in an area of high relevance: finding wiring diagrams that underlie simple behaviors and seeing how the wiring diagrams differ among individuals. Deciphering a “gap-junction-coupled motor pattern-generating neural microcircuit” that underlies an innate behavior will assist in understanding what accounts for individual and sex differences in innate behavior and how, over time, such as in aging, wiring diagrams and innate behavior change. In summary, my expertise and experience have prepared me to design and lead the research projects underway in my laboratory at the University of Kansas.
Mentoring and preparing a diverse neuroscience workforce is central to my laboratory and research program as well. In my sixteen years at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, I recruited, trained, and mentored undergraduate (n=24; 22 underrepresented), graduate (n=8 Ph.D.; 7 underrepresented), and post-doctoral trainees (n=2; 1 underrepresented). I served on the committees of 17 MS students; of those, 10 underrepresented students are pursuing PhDs at Mainland U.S. universities; an additional four MS students will soon complete their programs and have been accepted by PhD programs at Mainland U.S. universities. I served on the committees of 21 underrepresented doctoral students, eight of whom will soon complete PhD programs and pursue post-doctoral training at Mainland U.S. institutions.
In the year I have been at KU, I have provided imaging or laboratory experiences to high-school (n=36), undergraduate (n=2), and graduate students (n=2) from underrepresented groups. Of the eight members of my KU laboratory, seven are from underrepresented groups in STEM and all are engaged in NSF and NIH supported research.
Service is an important aspect of my work. I serve on the Advisory Board of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology Maximizing Access to Research Careers Program. Each year at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and at the annual Experimental Biology meeting, I provide underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows training on rigor and reproducibility. Each year for six years I have directed and taught the Immunohistochemistry and Microscopy Course at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and in each of those years I have recruited and trained an average of twelve students from underrepresented groups.