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Postdoctoral Fellowship - Pain Medical College of Wisconsin - 2022
PhD - Biology Duquesne University - 2017
BS - Biology University of Pittsburgh - 2011
How does the gut microbiome contribute to chronic pain?
Mammalian gastrointestinal tracts are inhabited by millions of bacteria that are critical for normal gut function. Over the past decade, accumulating evidence has suggested that these bacterial populations (collectively known as the gut microbiome) are disrupted in many neurological conditions including mood disorders, autism, schizophrenia, and chronic pain. It is unclear if disease-related changes in bacteria drive symptoms in patients, or if microbial changes are merely a result of the underlying condition. Using fecal material transplant experiments, I am directly investigating if and how the gut microbiome from various chronic pain models modulates sensory signaling in the peripheral and central nervous system. These experiments will increase our understanding of interoceptive processes and provide numerous opportunities for novel drug development.
How is sickle cell pain processed in the brain?
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common genetic blood disorder in the world. Approximately 100,000 Americans, primarily those of African descent, suffer from this condition that is named for the rigid shape that red blood cells take in affected individuals. Pain is one of the primary symptoms of SCD and the leading reason that patients with this condition seek medical attention. Very little is known about how sickle cell disease pain is encoded within the central nervous system. A recent review identified only 4 brain imaging studies completed in patients with SCD, and only 3 papers have used transgenic mice to understand how the brain is involved in SCD pain. This lack of data is not due to lack of reason; accumulating evidence supports that disease-related neurological changes in the central nervous system, and not just disease-related stroke or cerebral infarct drive sickle cell disease pain. Central sensitization is observed in patients with sickle cell and correlated with pain intensity and frequency. Chronic sickle cell disease pain is also exacerbated by co-morbid mood disorders including clinical depression and anxiety. I am investigating how the amygdala, a brain region traditionally associated with emotional processing, encodes acute and chronic sickle cell disease pain. Understanding how mood and pain information are simultaneously processed in this region will hopefully identify targets or strategies for lessening both disruptive symptoms in individuals with sickle cell disease.
K99/R00: Sickle cell disease gut dysbiosis effects on CNS pain processing
- NHLBI (NIH) [2021/08–2026/07]
Pain is the most common complication for patients with sickle cell disease. Very little is known about how sickle cell disease pain is processed in the brain, and as a result, few non-opioid based therapies are used to treat this symptom. In this proposal, we will manipulate gut bacteria in sickle cell disease mice then measure pain-related brain activity and behaviors to identify new targets for sickle cell disease pain treatments.
F32: Fibroblast-to-neuron communication in muscle pain
- NINDS (NIH) [2018/02–2019/11]
Chronic muscle pain is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States, but the mechanisms for this condition are not well understood. This proposal investigates how chronic muscle pain is mediated by communication between sensory neurons, the cells that transmit muscle pain signals, and fibroblasts, the cells that provide structural support for muscle tissue.
F31: Effects of Central Amygdala Lateralization on Descending Control of Bladder Pain
- NIDDK (NIH) [2014/09–2016/12]
The contributions of supraspinal processing to visceral pain conditions are relatively unknown. By studying the central amygdala and its involvement in bladder pain, a better understanding of nociceptive modulation and novel treatment targets for visceral pain conditions will be found.