“James Watson said that the brain is the last frontier,” said Grace Fox, a biomedical sciences doctoral student at Augusta University. “We’ve been to outer space, we’ve explored the ocean, but do we know ourselves? I think that is the most exciting part of science.”
Grace’s desire to study the much unknown frontier of the brain has led her to major in Neuroscience, where her research focuses on fear, how neural circuits perceive fear, and how they store fear memories. There are many regions in the brain such as the amygdala and hippocampus that are well-known to have a role in processing fear memory; however, much less is known about the contribution of cortical sites to these events.
She started her journey at Augusta University in 2012 as a participant in the STAR Program, a nine week immersive summer undergraduate program, where she worked on sensory hair cell regeneration with zebra fish. She even used her research in the STAR Program to complete her honors thesis project on zebrafish development.
“The STAR Program allowed me to see what it is really like on campus, and I discovered the Neuroscience program here is very strong,” she said. “I felt a sense of community at Augusta University, and I knew this was where I wanted to do my graduate work.”
Now a graduate student at Augusta University and conducting her research in the lab of her mentor, Dr. Joe Tsien, Grace has been very successful. She won the 2015 Excellence in Research Award at the university’s Graduate Research Day, is active in the Biomedical Student Association, and has presented her research at several seminars and conferences.
Grace is currently investigating the Retrosplenial Cortex (RSC), which is connected to many brain areas that are important in processing fear memory. It is thought that the RSC stores memories that were first encoded by the hippocampus. From a clinical perspective, studying the RSC, and how it works, is particularly important in understanding and treating anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), a debilitating disorder in which fear memories become overgeneralized and are difficult to extinguish.
Grace is excited to see how her work will impact future research and the paths of other students in the neuroscience field.
“My view of science is very global,” she said. “I don’t believe that one person is going to cure all or be the end all, but that we’re all adding one more piece to the puzzle. I have great joy in knowing that another scientist may read my paper in the future and it will give them a clue. That’s what we’re all looking for- clues to this grand puzzle. For me, there would be nothing greater than adding to a puzzle that will save lives one day.”