Honors Spotlight Star: Simbarashe Kanjanda
1. Whose lab are you in?
- Dr. Jennifer Round
2. What is the title of your research?
- “Investigating The Significance of Slitrk2 and PSD-95 Interactions in Synapse Formation”
3. Give a brief summary of your research?
- Synapses are essential for life. They connect one neuron to another which makes them responsible for every thought, memory or movement that we make. Synapse formation is a multi-step process that involves the recruitment of many different kinds of molecules to the synaptic site. These molecules are responsible for the molecular and morphological changes that strengthen the connection between the neurons. Errors in the process of synapse formation can lead to uncoordinated nervous system functioning and result in various neurodevelopmental disorders and neurological differences.
- Of interest in my research is the interaction between two proteins that are important in driving synapse formation – PSD-95 and Slitrk2. PSD-95 is a pivotal post-synaptic scaffolding protein in excitatory neurons, and an intracellular binding partner for Slitrk2. PSD-95 and Slitrk2 colocalize at synapses. Whilst there is a lot of data on the relevance and importance of Slitrks, the role of PSD-95 in this interaction is not very much understood. My research aims to test whether PSD-95 affects Slitrk2’s trafficking to synapses. Understanding how Slitrk2 is trafficked to the synapse and anchored there is important for gaining a better understanding of the trafficking of similar molecules to the synapses, and the formation of synapses overall. These interactions are also medically relevant as both Slitrk2 and PSD-95 have been linked to a number of neurological conditions such as Bipolar disorder, Autism, and Schizophrenia.
4. What was your motive for joining a research lab?
- To explore and learn the field of research in general. I wanted to expand myself by taking on the challenge to try something that I had never done nor even intended to do in the future. I knew that becoming familiar with the field of research would increase my exposure and perspective as a person, especially in the realm of health care, which I wish to pursue a career in.
5. How has participating in research affected your college experience?
- Participating in research has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences that I have had in college. I did not ever imagine that research would connect me with mentors and fellow researchers in a way that is constructive to all parts of my education experience. Not only has research given me these many networks, it has also taught me how to work with others well. Research has also encouraged me to be more responsible and independent in my thinking and work.
6. What has been the highlight of your research?
- Getting really close to my mentor and fellow researchers. One of my favorite moments was when my mentor’s young daughter (Ella) brought me a coloring that she had done at school.
- Another general highlight is the perseverance that we showed as a team with my research partners when things did not go very well, and we had to redo them. Coupled with the late nights and long days spent talking and bonding during experiments! Through these, I have discovered a newfound fascination over the candy – Haribo Sour Spaghetti, which one of my fellow researchers (Melanie DeRosa) introduced me to.
7. What are your future plans for after graduation?
- To go to Medical School and train to be a surgeon. I have interests in the fields of Cardiology, Neurology and Orthopedics at the moment. Eventually, in the later stages of my career, I want to return to my home country (Zimbabwe) and help with healthcare efforts there.
8. Any words of wisdom for prospective future researchers? –
- Always challenge yourself as there is great reward in experiences that push us out of our comfort zones – growth is a never-ending journey.
- There are many implicit personal growth factors that are imbedded in research that will make of an overall more developed person after undertaking in research.
- Be open to the challenge and “failure” - always have an optimistic lens to progress and keep persevering through the downfalls and loopholes.
- Make the most out of the experience and look for ways to make it enjoyable - develop your bonds with mentors and fellow researchers.
- Think outside the box - take ownership of all your abilities and hard work!
9. Are there any fellow researchers or mentors you would like to thank?
- Dr. Round (mentor)
- Melanie DeRosa, Kyle Schantz, Elisha Rodriguez (fellow researchers)
- Kelly Christina