SPUR 2022: Neurobiology of Psychiatric Symptoms

Background

The Diagnostic Neuroimaging Lab is focused on improving understanding of the neurobiology of psychiatric symptoms, including aggression, suicide behaviors, depression, and anxiety. We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine brain volume and connectivity of neural networks in individuals with and without psychiatric disorders. While our lab has numerous studies that the SPUR student would be exposed to, we would focus their efforts on two primary projects looking at aggression and suicide behavior in adolescents and adults. The rationale for these studies is based on data suggesting that rates of females dying by suicide are increasing over time, especially in female veterans. Prior research has identified numerous risk factors for suicide behavior but limited research has focused on females. We therefore examine suicide behavior in females and focus on specific subtypes of aggression (e.g., verbal, physical) as they relate to different brain regions and self-directed violence. Project 1 is a longitudinal study following youth and adolescent participants between the ages of 9 and 19 whereas Project 2 includes female veteran participants. Both projects include data collection and analysis of brain neuroimaging; aggression; suicide and self-directed violence behaviors; neurocognitive constructs such as attention and memory; physical health; mental health; and demographics. Identifying symptom and neurobiological correlates of suicide behavior in females compared to males will enable us to identify early predictors of self-directed violence and co-morbid psychiatric symptoms to improve both earlier intervention and treatment.

Student Role

A student would have ample opportunity to be engaged in every step of this research. Depending on the student’s interest and abilities, they could be involved in review of relevant literature, data collection, data analysis, and preparation/presentation of results. They could observe and participate in research subject screening, scheduling, and recruitment of participants. They may also observe and participate in study visits, including the following procedures and assessments: informed consent, MRI, cognitive testing, mental health evaluation, physical health questionnaires, aggression self-report, demographics, gender identity and sexual health self-report, parent assessments (for adolescent participants), and/or suicide behavior assessments. Students would also be given the opportunity to attend local and national calls focused on women’s health, adolescent behavior development, assessment measure selection, and logistics of a multi-site NIH-funded studies. Also depending on the student’s interest and abilities, they could be given access to already-collected data with the goal of analyzing and interpreting outcomes with faculty support. We would endeavor to offer the student a wide range of experiences to help them better understand what life in a “real” human subject research is like day to day.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

We would offer the student a wide range of experiences to help them better understand what life in a “real” university human subject research lab is like day to day. It seems likely that many of the SPUR undergraduates would be thinking about future directions for their education and careers. We are excited to show them the daily routine and experiences in a lab focused on human clinical studies. This work would range from IRB applications to writing manuscripts for publication. Our lab includes approximately 10 study coordinators/research assistants, 2 full professors (PhD and MD/PhD), 3 postdoctoral fellows, 2 assistant professors, and an associate professor so there would be ample opportunity for the student to observe a variety of professionals with various degrees from the bachelor’s level to post-doctoral. The student would be able to talk with our staff and faculty members about their journeys to their position, the benefits and challenges in being a clinical researcher, and the specific projects in the lab. We each have research opportunities over a range of different stages from completing background reading to inform conceptualization of potential projects to active data collection to having complete data sets. These stages of work allow the student to see each step of research and learn many of the challenges and successes along the way. We would ensure that the student had ample opportunity to ask questions throughout their summer experience.

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Erin McGlade
Research Associate Professor

Psychiatry
School of Medicine

I am the Associate Director of the Diagnostic Neuroimaging Lab’s postdoctoral fellowship and the Associate Director of our APPIC-approved postdoctoral fellowship at the VA. I am passionate about education and enabling interested students to seek a career in research. Training in our programs is based on a sequential and cumulative process that is graded in complexity. Students arrive to our lab at different levels and places in their educational and professional development. We believe it is important to meet each student at their individual level so that they are not frustrated or unable to complete the work they undertake. Initial discussions with the student would focus on their prior experience to identify their interests and goals in order to tailor their research experience. We would identify which areas they would like to focus on for the greatest growth and additional areas that would require less intensive emphasis. This information helps us develop a plan focused on the student’s interests and goals both for the summer and longer term. The student would receive mentorship from myself and from other staff and faculty in our lab, ensuring that they get a diverse range of perspectives and expertise. The student will have more direct-contact time with faculty/staff in the lab in the beginning of the summer and graduate to supervised independence as the weeks pass and they are more comfortable with the research tasks and studies. The student would also be invited to our other mentoring activities, including U of U and VA lab meetings and didactics.