Sara Maurer

Sara Maurer, Postdoctoral fellow, psychiatry

Researches effects of prenatal stress

“Dr. Maurer is not originally from Iowa but has brought her passion and scientific dedication to our community willingly and selflessly. She seeks not only to make substantial scientific contributions herself but to help junior scientists to understand how they can contribute.” -Hanna Stevens, associate professor, psychiatry

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Hanna Stevens, MD, PhD, associate professor, psychiatry

What is your degree program and expected graduate date? PhD, neuroscience – postdoctoral fellow

Please describe your research: Pregnancy is, of course, a critical time for a baby’s brain development. My research assesses how stress during pregnancy leads to changes in placental and brain development (particularly in the striatum, a brain region implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder). Because maternal stress is often unavoidable, my goal is to find out more about the pathway between maternal stress and offspring neurodevelopment to pave the way for future preventative interventions for neurodevelopmental disorders.

In simple terms, why does this research matter? Neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder are highly prevalent, but their etiology is still not fully understood. My research falls under the category of studying “developmental origins of health and disease,” and how variance in risk and resilience to neurodevelopmental disorders can be “programmed” early in development. By discovering the developmental origin of neurodevelopmental disorder incidence, future research and healthcare interventions can harness it to prevent these disorders.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? Immediately

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Research is the reason I came to the University of Iowa. The collaborative nature of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute and the university has made it easy to explore multiple interwoven ideas aimed at improving maternal and child health.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? My goal is to elucidate the mechanism by which prenatal stress leads to altered neurodevelopmental outcomes, with the aim of improving maternal and child health.

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