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Honors in neuroscience

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UD faculty member, students earn statewide recognition

​Jaclyn Schwarz conducts research on how activation of the immune system early in life, or even before birth, influences the brain and behavior later.

Jaclyn Schwarz, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware, has been named the 2017 Neuroscientist of the Year by the Delaware Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

The award was presented at the annual Delaware Neuroscience Symposium and Poster Session in December. The symposium, sponsored by the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research and the Delaware chapter of SfN, also featured 48 poster presentations by graduate students, undergraduates and postdoctoral researchers from throughout the state.

Schwarz conducts research on how activation of the immune system—the body’s defense against infection—early in life, or even before birth, influences the brain and behavior throughout the lifespan. Among the disorders that might be linked to an early exposure to infection are autism, which is generally diagnosed in early childhood, and schizophrenia, often diagnosed in late adolescence.

“There is a strong link between early-life immune activation and later problems,” Schwarz said. “The question is: Why? How does this happen? Immune activation is supposed to be good for us; it protects us from disease. But somehow, in some contexts, it’s harmful.”

For example, she said, previous research has established that if a pregnant woman gets influenza in her second or third trimester, her child has an increased risk of mental health problems later in life. But, of course, many children whose mothers were exposed to the flu while pregnant never develop such problems, so Schwarz theorizes that the exposure to infection might be just the first factor leading to later difficulties.

“We call the early immune activation a ‘priming,’ but it can’t be the only factor,” she said. “Somehow, later in life for some of these children, something derails the normal trajectory of development.”

Schwarz’s lab currently has three active research projects. In one, her team is studying early-life immune activation to learn if males are more vulnerable than females to the effects, including learning disabilities, which are more prevalent in boys than girls.

She is also exploring if the changes that occur in a woman’s immune system during pregnancy can affect the immune cells in her own brain and possibly increase the risk of postpartum depression.

Her third research project is investigating the impact of the Zika virus in a pregnant woman on the brain development of her fetus.

“I see all three of these projects as interconnected,” Schwarz said. “The immune system is the common factor.”

More about the symposium

Featured speakers at the event were researchers Randy Blakely, professor of biomedical science at the Florida Atlantic University Brain Institute; Margaret McCarthy, professor of pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Tirin Moore, professor of neurobiology at Stanford University’s Center for Mind, Brain and Computation.

Following are the awards for poster presentations given in several categories at the symposium. 

Postdoctoral:

  • First place, Erin Crowgey, Nemours Children’s Health System

  • Second place, Jaclyn Caccese, UD Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology

Graduate students, all from UD:

  • First place (tie), Megan Warren and Zachary Gursky, both in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

  • Second place, Tyler Fettrow, Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology

  • Third place (tie), Nina Faye Sampilo and Michael Clupper, both in the Department of Biological Sciences

Undergraduate students, all from UD:

  • First place, Shrey Patel, an Honors student in the Department of Biological Sciences

Article by Ann Manser; photo by Evan Krape

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Jaclyn Schwarz, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, has been named Delaware's Neuroscientist of the Year by a statewide professional organization.
1/30/2018
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