Isa Amaro Varas ’23 awarded distinguished Watson Fellowship
Assistant Professor of Biology E. Carla Parker-Athill has won a $10,000 Seed Grant from the Sloan Scholars Mentoring Network of the Social Science Research Council and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The grant will allow Parker-Athill to conduct research on the biological impact of traumatic childhood experiences.
Parker-Athill will work with undergraduate student researchers from Conn to study how cortisol, a stress hormone expressed in excess during periods of trauma, affects the developing brain. They will use Zebrafish embryos—vertebrate animals with nervous systems that have analogous structure and functionality to that of humans—to examine the ways in which prolonged cortisol exposure, during periods in which the brain is undergoing significant developmental changes, disrupts the way the brain develops and functions.
Previous studies have found relationships between childhood trauma—abuse, neglect and instability in the household—and negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, and high-risk behaviors. Parker-Athill is interested in the biological mechanisms at the root of these outcomes.
This research has “the potential to give us insight into how early experiences of trauma can impact complex brain functions such as learning, memory, decision-making and behavior,” Parker-Athill said.
“This grant definitely provides a great opportunity, especially so early in my career. One of the biggest benefits is the opportunity to mentor students. Beyond that, with this grant, I can carry out experiments and collect preliminary data that can serve as the foundation for other grants, and I am grateful to the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and the Sloan Scholars Mentoring Network for the opportunity.”