Biology

Honors Spotlight Star: Avery Sicher

Avery Sicher (’20), a Biology major, is currently conducting research with Dr. Carlita Favero about how prenatal alcohol exposure alters cells.

Avery Sicher was asked some questions about her lab experience at Ursinus.

Q: Whose lab you are in?

A: Dr. Carlita Favero

Q: What is the title of your research?

A: Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Alters the Number, but Not the Distribution of Corridor Cells at E13.5.

Q: Can you explain your project using 3-10 sentences in lay-people terms so that a non-scientist could understand it?

A: Our lab uses a model of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to study the development of brain connections important for sensory and motor processing. Thalamocortical axons, or TCAs, are important for sensory processing. TCA growth and migration are impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure. My project looks at a cell population called corridor cells, which help guide TCAs while they are migrating through the brain. Corridor cells guide TCAs through an area of the brain called the medial ganglionic eminence, or MGE. Because TCA growth is impaired by prenatal alcohol exposure, I predicted that the distribution and number of corridor cells in the MGE would be altered by prenatal alcohol exposure. I used a process called immunostaining to label corridor cells in embryonic mouse brains. After immunostaining, I divided the MGE into ten equal sections and counted the number of corridor cells in each section to see whether corridor cell distribution or the number of cells was altered by prenatal alcohol exposure. I found that the number of corridor cells, but not their distribution, is altered by prenatal alcohol exposure. Having too few corridor cells could lead to misguided TCAs and sensory processing deficits in FASD.

Q: What are your anticipated plans following graduation?

A: After graduation, I will be attending Penn State University to pursue my PhD in neuroscience. I plan to join a lab that looks at alcohol’s effects on brain circuits involved in anxiety and depression.

Q: What do you think is the most challenging part of doing research?

A: The most challenging thing I’ve learned about research is that experiments don’t always work, so you have to go back and troubleshoot. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of doing research?

A: The most rewarding part of research is when your troubleshooting finally fixes the problem and you get results!

Q: What is a specific memory that you have about your time in lab or at a meeting?

A: My favorite memory in the Favero lab is participating in the FUTURE program in Summer 2018. My FUTURE mentee, Rahsaan, and I presented our work at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, CA. Rahsaan had just graduated high school when he started the FUTURE program, and he presented at one of the biggest neuroscience conferences in the world only 6 months later! Working with Rahsaan and spending the summer in the lab made me realize I wanted to pursue neuroscience research after graduating from Ursinus.

Q: Do you have any advice for other students?

A: I would tell other students to get involved with research early and to take advantage of all of Ursinus’s opportunities, including lectures and student presentations! I wish I would have joined the Favero lab even earlier. Ursinus’s research program is truly unique for an undergraduate-only school. At my graduate school interviews, other applicants and graduate students were surprised by the number of opportunities I’ve had as an undergrad, including presenting at conferences and mentoring other students. Your four years go by way too fast, and you should try to soak up every single second of your time at UC!

Q: What will you miss about your dept./major when you graduate?

A: The thing I will miss most about the biology department is having so many supportive professors! I still talk to my professors in the hallways after class and they are all excited about my research and my postgraduation plans. Professors here really take the time to get to know their students! They are here to learn just as much as we are!