Graduate Students

Katrina Zmavc

Katrina Zmavc

MSc Volunteer; PhD Philosophy Student

Biography: I completed my BSc (Hons) in psychology at the University of Manitoba under the supervision of Dr. Tammy Ivanco, where I investigated neural plasticity, or the way the brain changes with experience. For my MSc, I furthered my interest in neural plasticity by combining it with my interest in mental health. I completed my MSc in neuroscience here at Western under the supervision of Drs. Lisa Saksida and Timothy Bussey. With the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework as my guide for conceptualizing and anatomizing mood disorders, I investigated the role adult neurogenesis plays in emotion regulation, specifically depression-relevant reward-related behaviours. I posit that what we currently think of as “depression” is, in reality, multiple disorders each with their own neurological underpinnings; this view is supported by the RDoC framework, as well as the variability in symptom profiles and responses to treatment across patients. For my PhD, I’ve shifted my focus to neuroethics/neurophilosophy under the supervision of Drs. Michael Anderson and Anthony Skelton. My area of interest is technology and information systems/networks, or cybernetics. Within this domain, my primary line of inquiry is the ethics and implications of developing technological means for neuroenhancement and how this interacts/intersects with national defence, international relations, social hierarchies and economic power structures, and the (re-)conceptualization of what is “human.” I plan to continue empirical research in neuroscience and computer sciences to supplement, build upon, and strengthen my theoretical pursuits on the above issues. My shift in research interests (and departments) is not to say that I am no longer interested in my previous neuroscientific pursuits; I still have a strong passion for mental illness etiology and the (re-)conceptualization of these illnesses. As such, I am continuing my relationship with the TCN Lab to continue my work on neurogenesis and emotion regulation, specifically depression-relevant behaviours.
Keon Coleman

Keon Coleman

Masters Student (Sept 2018 – Aug 2020)

Research Interests / Specializations: I graduated from the University of Guelph with a major in psychology and a minor in neuroscience. My research interests are rooted in neurodegenerative disease, cognition and behaviour. Previously, I have explored the role of cholinergic activity in mice for multisensory object perception. Here in the TCNLab my research focuses on the investigation of cognitive impairment in TDP-43 mouse models of Fronto-temporal Dementia (FTD) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) using touchscreen based behavioural tasks. FTD-ALS share overlapping clinical and genetic features, and TDP-43 proteinopathy has a critical role in the pathology of FTD-ALS regardless of genetic mutations. TDP-43 misfolding and aggregation also induces cognitive deficits, which have a strong negative impact on ALS outcomes. I hope to determine if there are any cognitive alterations in FTD-ALS transgenic mouse models, and furthermore if a TDP-43 cognitive phenotype can be identified using these models.
Olivia Ghosh-Swaby

Olivia Ghosh-Swaby

PhD Student

Research Interests / Specializations: My research focus is understanding the neural mechanisms behind neuroplasticity and enhanced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. In particular, I look at how diet impacts neurogenesis and assessing whether various readily accessible interventions such as exercise and drug treatment (metformin - a frontline diabetes therapy and d-serine - a dietary supplement and amino acid) can reverse the negative effects of poor diet on memory and cognition. I use various techniques including conventional and touchscreen tasks to assess behaviour and investigate changes to the brain at the cellular level using molecular techniques. Originally, graduating from Western University with a double major in physiology and interdisciplinary medical sciences, my initial focus in research was interdisciplinary. I worked with physicians in Toronto to develop an interdisciplinary clinic that targets cardiovascular health in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. I have a number of first author publications on cardiovascular outcomes by socioeconomic status and in those with type 2 diabetes. I am now applying these experiences to my current neuroscience research by looking at the impacts of obesity - a risk factor for metabolic disorders such as diabetes - on cognition and ways to combat these effects as described previously. I am passionate about leadership in academia and am currently the Student Representative for the Neuroscience Graduate Program, an executive member of the Robarts Association of Trainees, and a member of the BrainsCAN EDI Committee.
Oren Princz-Lebel

Oren Princz-Lebel

PhD Student

Research Interests / Specializations: My research strives to understand how cell populations within the striatum support cognition in states of health and disease. To do so, I use cutting-edge in vivo techniques such as fibre photometry and genetically-encoded biosensors to record neuromodulator activity as animals perform complex touchscreen-based cognitive tasks. Furthermore, I am interested in understanding how striatal cells are affected in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease (PD). Cognitive impairments are common complications of PD, and are often distressing for both PD patients and their caregivers. Collaborating between the preclinical TCN Lab and the clinical MacDonald Lab, I hope to gain a better understanding of why these impairments occur and develop behavioural paradigms that promote better translation of findings across model organisms and patient populations.
Tyler Dexter

Tyler Dexter

PhD Student

Research Interests / Specializations: My research focusses on understanding how the rodent prefrontal cortex supports cognition. Specifically, I am interested in how inhibitory neurons within the prefrontal cortex support executive functioning under normal and pathological conditions. To answer these questions, I use in vivo optogenetics combined with touchscreen-based tasks of attention and working memory. This approach allows a highly specific and temporally precise assessment of how these neurons are involved in supporting cognition. Working toward an understanding of these fundamental mechanisms, I hope to apply these principles to studying cognitive impairments in neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.