Stacey Peek

Stacey Peek, Ph.D. student, Neuroscience

Sheds light on cell death

Hometown: Highland, IL
Faculty mentor/advisor: Joshua A. Weiner, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Professor, Department of Biology; Associate Director, Iowa Neuroscience Institute
What is your degree program and expected graduate date? Ph.D., Neuroscience ; August 2021
Please describe your research: I am studying the role of a protein called Akirin2 in the brain. In muscle cells, in tumor cells, and in the immune system, this protein has been shown to regulate genes that control a cell’s ability to proliferate, to differentiate into its proper cell type, and to undergo a programmed cell death mechanism called apoptosis. Previously, this protein had never been studied in the brain, but our research is finding that it is essential to brain development because if you prevent developing brain cells from expressing this protein, the brain does not form. Furthermore, my specific research project is finding that if you prevent mature brain cells from expressing this protein, these cells slowly die and degenerate, similar to what is seen in neurodegenerative diseases.
In simple terms, why does this research matter?  Our hope is that by unveiling Akirin2’s functions in brain cells and how it performs these functions,  we will have a better understanding of what these cells need to develop properly and to maintain normal, healthy activity.  In this way we hope to better understand what could go awry to result in neurodevelopmental disorders and  neurodegenerative diseases.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? Immediately! Research is a fundamental part of my training. I spent my first year participating in research in three lab rotations.  When I found my “home lab” in which I am completing my thesis work, I began my own research project right away.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa?  Participating in research has been foundational to my success at the University of Iowa and will be the cornerstone to my future success.  It has not only taught me unique analytical and technical skills but also critical thinking, time management, and organizational skills. It has also taught me some things that are essential to succeed in science: patience and resilience. Patience and planning are required as most experiments take weeks or months. Often the data do not align with your original hypothesis and it takes resilience to critically analyze your experimental design and results to reshape your hypotheses, learn from the experiments, and not give up.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? After graduation I hope to move into a more clinical setting and transition into a position in industry.  I hope to work at an institution that studies and develops drugs and therapies for neurological or neurodegenerative diseases.

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