#IamIPN: Stephanie Tullo


Stephanie is a Ph.D. student in the Integrated Program in Neuroscience. She is conducting her graduate studies under the supervision of Dr. M. Chakravarty at the Douglas Research Centre. She is studying the prion-like propagation hypothesis of alpha-synuclein in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.


     Throughout my undergraduate studies in neuroscience, I was exposed to a broad range of subjects wherein I acquired knowledge about the human brain. However, my interest in neuroscience deepened once I learned about groundbreaking discoveries that revolutionized neuroscience research. While learning about the pioneering work, I became interested in pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience in the hopes of continuing the progress of innovative research. Moreover, when volunteering at The Neuro, wherein I interacted with patients and their families, I was exposed to the direct impact that research has on the community, and learned that neuroscience is more than just studying the brain and nervous system, which further propelled me to pursue research, in the hopes of improving the lives of patients.


     I chose to pursue my graduate studies with McGill’s IPN because I believe that this research-focused environment will allow me to hone and refine my skills as a graduate-level researcher. Furthermore, there are many opportunities provided by the IPN that will foster my growth and development as a reputable academic researcher; being able to present my work at the yearly IPN retreats and research days provide invaluable opportunities to translate my findings to a broader scientific audience, and to learn from and collaborate with scientists and students in diverse fields of neuroscience.


     Working under the supervision of Dr. Mallar Chakravarty at the Douglas Institute, I strengthened the knowledge I obtained from my studies by applying it to practical aspects of neuroscience, particularly through neuroimaging research. With this exposure, I became particularly interested in investigating the influence of various factors on brain structure and behaviour. For my Master’s project, I examined how subcortical morphology and microstructure change throughout the course of normal and healthy aging in the adult lifespan using structural magnetic resonance imaging. The examination of the expected patterns of growth and decline in healthy individuals is crucial in understanding deviations in deep gray matter associated with various disorders, and has consequently formed the foundation for the work I am conducting during my doctoral studies. For my doctorate, using a multi-disciplinary approach, combining cellular, genetic, animal and human neuroimaging, and computational modelling, I will examine disease progression of Parkinson’s disease by mapping alpha-synuclein protein propagation across the brain’s networks. The creation of a bio-computational model would allow for the investigation of the course and clinical expression of Parkinson's, which thereafter can be applied to any neurodegenerative disease where protein propagation is believed to be a pathogenic factor.


     I was fortunate to have received multiple awards while pursuing my graduate studies. The resulting opportunities of being awarded an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship (2017), a FRQS Master’s Training Award (2017), a Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives (HBHL) doctoral fellowship (2019), various travel awards (GREAT Award 2017 and 2019, Douglas Research Center’s Marie Giguère Travel Award 2019, Western University’s BrainsCAN Rodent Cognition Core Touchscreen Training Travel Award 2019, Society for Neuroscience’s Trainee Professional Development Award 2019) have proven to be instrumental to my productivity and research goals thus far. 


     My current and future research goals are to ultimately improve brain health. Improving quality of life is the main objective of research, and I look forward to the opportunity to contribute, both through neuroscientific discovery and through outreach, to the greater community through knowledge translation efforts. I am a strong proponent of initiatives that promote awareness and transfer of knowledge, as well as bridging the gap between different research disciplines. I am fortunate to be a member of the Douglas Student Committee for Academic Life, wherein we plan scientific activities with the aim of unifying the extensive and vastly different research projects being conducted at the Douglas Research Center. Beyond the research domain, I have always been actively involved in the community through various volunteer commitments in health care, health promotion, and education. Last year, I joined the BrainReach program, wherein I taught fun and interactive neuroscience-based presentations and workshops to students in under-resourced neighbourhoods around Montreal. This experience has been an invaluable asset to my growth and development as a researcher. The most valuable lesson I learned from teaching young people is that teaching and learning is a two-way street. Having to explain difficult concepts in a direct and simple manner immediately adds to our own understanding. Moreover, young minds question everything, and their unexpected questions and remarks elicit a new perspective that we as experienced people can benefit from.


     I am extremely fortunate to be part of an institution that is composed of interdisciplinary researchers that execute cutting-edge research, and I look forward to forging my path alongside these pioneers of neuroscience.


Published on November 5, 2019



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