Senior biology major - with a neuroscience emphasis - Katie Irwin found her passion for advancing science through her own work studying neurodegenerative diseases and helping encourage others — especially young girls — to pursue successful careers in STEM fields:
During my freshman year, I was able to join Jim Lauderdale’s developmental neuroscience lab in the department of cellular biology. In the lab, I direct my own project comparing the development of the lizard third eye, also known as the parietal eye, to that of the lateral eye to provide a unique system for gaining insight into the formation of vertebrate photoreceptive structures. I have presented my research at multiple symposia, including the annual CURO Symposium, where I received a 2017 Best Poster Award out of 290 posters. This past May, I was also able to present my research at the international 2018 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Annual Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. When not listening to scientific presentations concerning the eye or discussing my research with experts in the field, going on stunning hikes around Hawaii was a blast. Overall, training in the Lauderdale lab, I have not only acquired important research techniques but also have learned how to think like a scientist through the guidance of Dr. Lauderdale and my graduate-student mentor, Ashley Rasys.
Within neuroscience, I am particularly interested in brain aging and neurodegenerative disease. While I love my work in the Lauderdale lab, I have utilized my summers to explore my research interests in neurodegeneration. Funded as a UGA Honors International Scholar, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland, during the summer after my sophomore year to work as a research intern at the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College. The GBHI is committed to training a network of international leaders in brain aging in order to reduce the worldwide impact of dementia. There, I worked under Dr. Lorina Naci and wrote as first author a literature review examining evidence for cognitive and structural brain changes that may differentiate healthy aging and pathological aging related to Alzheimer’s disease in midlife. This review has recently been accepted for publication in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience! Additionally, I attended GBHI seminars as one of only two students among a room filled with GBHI Fellows, experts in diverse fields recruited from around the world. These discussion-based meetings involved presentations concerning research in a variety of topics relevant to brain aging. Beyond learning so much about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, I had the best summer exploring the beautiful country of Ireland. The charming culture, incredibly kind people, astonishingly green countryside, and rugged coastlines combined to create two months I will never forget.
Congratulations to Dr. Lauderdale and colleagues for their great influence on this young scientist. Again - students developing a heart for UGA and a conscience for the world. We cannot do better than that. Well done, Katie!