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Researcher Spotlight: Graduate Student Jessica Baker


Third-year College of Graduate Health Science student Jessica Baker, BS, was recently selected as a recipient of a National Institutes of Health award for her project titled, “Evaluation of the Genetic Contribution of the Neuroinflammatory Response Following Neonatal Alcohol Exposure.” The fellowship award will support Baker’s work as a neuroscience student where she focuses on the effects of alcohol syndrome on the brain.

“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) refers to a group of conditions which affects two to five percent of children in the US annually,” said Baker. “These effects can include cognitive deficits such as learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and poor memory. My work aims to investigate the intersection of genetics and alcohol-induced neroinflammation in the hopes it will lead to a better understanding and treatment options.”

Jessica Baker (left) and Dr. Kristin Hamre (right)

Baker’s F31 award stems from the research she does under the direction of Kristin Hamre, PhD, associate professor in the department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at UTHSC. Specifically, in September 2016, Dr. Hamre and Cynthia Kane, PhD, professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) were selected as the recipients of the first UTHSC/UAMS USA Collaborative Research Net- work (CORNET) Award in Substance Abuse. The CORNET award was used to fund their study titled, “The Role of Genetics in the Neuroimmune Response to Developmental Alcohol Exposure in the Hippocampus.”

“The immune system has a big impact on brain development,”said Dr. Hamre.“We are looking at the roles that genetics play, as well as inflammation in the developing fetal brain. The CORNET Award allowed us to show that we had an active collaboration and strong institutional support for this collaboration, both of which were essential in helping us get Jessica’s fellowship. 

Drs. Kane and Hamre have known each other for a number of years and saw the CORNET Award as their opportunity to finally collaborate. Since receiving their CORNET Award, Dr. Hamre’s team has traveled to UAMS to do training with Dr. Kane’s lab. The pair plan to use the data collected with the help of their CORNET Award to submit an application for federal funding in the future.

For Jessica, receiving an F31 Award will help her complete her thesis work being done in Dr. Hamre’s lab. She will receive funding over the next three-year period.