Gabriel Almeida Leme is a Senior at the University of Florida in the University Scholars Program. His research project is entitled: Examining the contribution of left and right vagal neurons expressing cocaine-and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART) in the control of food intake. Below are a summary of Gabriel’s project, experience with research, and plan for the future.
Summary of Research Project: The vagus nerve has been recognized as the core of the gut-brain axis that provides a neural pathway connecting the gut and central nervous system (CNS). The neuropeptide cocaine and amphetamine regulated-transcript (CART) has been found to provide an important negative-feedback mechanism for meal size regulation through the vagus nerve, on top of that, CART expression and signaling are disrupted in obesity, and genetic manipulation of the vagus nerve to replicate these disruptions promote overeating and weight gain. Therefore we hypothesize that activation of CART expressing NG neurons will cause a reduction in food intake and body in obese mice.
Why did you get started in undergraduate research? I have been interested in research since I was a kid, mixing random things together to see if something happened (usually did not). When I was 14 while living in a city in the Amazon, I had an experience with a Curadeiro (healer) that provided medical service to people for free. He would make teas with different plants, vines, and herbs to cure people’s illnesses. This experience heightened my childhood interested in wanting to mix things together to make something happen and also awoken a part of me too understand if what the Curadeiro was doing really working, and if it did, how so. After moving back to the USA and entering university I immediately started seeking a research lab. I continue wanting to better understand how things work, why they work, and the laboratory allows me to do this in an organized environment.
How has your research experience shaped your undergraduate career? After time, understanding the technologies used to do the experiments and their limitations, observing the thought process behind the paradigms, and the teamwork the goes behind breaking down the complexes each discovery; I have come to appreciate that research is about the day-to-day, the hard work, the opening of perspective beyond what is initially imagined. And the most beautiful and what shaped my experience is that everyday there is something new, new results, new learning. Research allows me to open my mind to different viewpoints beyond that what I originally thought and grasp that we are only seeing the tip of iceberg in a sea of knowledge to be discovered.
What advice would you give someone interested in undergraduate research? It took me sometime to find a lab that was a good fit for me. Do not be afraid to look around (specially in the CUR website) for different laboratories that are in need of undergraduates, even if it is not exactly what you want.
What are your plans for the future? I want to enter a MD or DO/PhD program and continue in the field of research.