Wedad Alhassen, a student in the University of California, Irvine PhD in Pharmacological Sciences program and a member of the Dr. Amal Alachkar lab, has earned the prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship.
The purpose of this Kirschstein-NRSA program is to enable promising predoctoral students with potential to develop into productive, independent research scientists, and to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research.
Alhassen’s research proposal is titled “Ciliary melanin-concentrating hormone receptors and the link to cognitive dysfunction in mice.”
“The focus of my research is to study the role of neuropeptide melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) receptors in mechanisms underlying cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia,” Alhassen said. “Our lab has previously shown that disruptions in the MCH system led to behavioral abnormalities mimicking symptoms relevant to schizophrenia and we found that MCHR1 mRNA levels are significantly lower in the prefrontal cortex of schizophrenic patients.”
Neuropsychiatric disorders affect one percent of the world’s population. Although there are available treatments, these ultimately have poor efficacy in the majority of patients. With the extensive research and progress that has been made in this field of research, there are still questions that are left unanswered.
It is a daunting task to treat psychiatric disorders associated with cognitive dysfunctions as it involves a multitude of genes, environmental factors, and a variety of phenotypes. Alhassen’s work aims to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms involved and potentially provide a novel approach for treatments of psychiatric disorders.
In talking about the NRSA award, Alhassen said: “I am overjoyed and honored to receive the NRSA award. This award gives my research the NIH stamp of approval showing that my work is valuable and that they trust my mentor and I to successfully do it.
Alhassen recently advanced to candidacy, which means she has completed all the coursework and program requirements. Her next steps are to focus on her research, and to write and defend her thesis within the next two years.
“At this stage in my PhD journey I will continue to mentor students, attend conferences, network with the guidance from my advisor Dr. Amal Alachkar, and collaborate with other labs including Dr. Olivier Civelli and Dr. Surya Nauli,” Alhassen said. “With the help of my mentors, I aim to become an independent researcher and further my career in academia.”