Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers present in the body that continuously work together to keep us functioning. Many neurodegenerative and mental disorders’ root cause are the absence or delayed firing of neurotransmitters. Since Spring of 2019, I have been working with magnetic nanoparticles and neurons with the end goal of being able to control neuronal firing. I was introduced to this project when I joined Dr. Peixoto’s lab but later I was able to make a deeper connection with my work. My family has a long history of mental disorders, and on my last trip to India, I was able to see my grandparents after five years. Unfortunately, my grandmother has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia since before I was born, and recently it has taken a complete toll on her life. Turning my frustration into fuel, I am driven to use these personal experiences as motivation for the challenges I face in the lab.
This semester I chose to focus specifically on the process of the uptake of nanoparticles by the neurons via phagocytosis. Prefrontal cortex cells were harvested from embryonic mice through a surgery performed in the lab and then were plated on microelectrode arrays that are able to track the production of action potentials by the neurons. After a week in vitro, two different types of nanoparticles were used. The first being iron oxide gold-capped nanoparticles and the second being the same except coated with poly(ethylene)glycol (PEG), in hopes of increasing the chances of uptake by the cells. High imaging and videos of the nanoparticles interacting with the neurons when induced by a strong magnetic field by imposing strong magnets are the methods of data retrieval. Results showed that the nanoparticles coated with PEG were more likely to be up taken by the cells. Moving forward, I hope to view these interactions with greater magnification to observe the nanoparticles in the cells in greater detail.
Working in Dr. Peixoto’s lab and on this project has enabled me to push myself in ways that I could not have before and become more comfortable with taking risks. I have developed my passions of inquisitiveness and investigation here which are qualities that will serve to be ever so purposeful throughout my academic and professional career.