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Anesthesiology members receive McDonnell Center grants to advance addiction, pain, and aging studies

Three researchers from the Department of Anesthesiology, Khairunisa Binte Mohamad Ibrahim, PhD, Kyle Parker, PhD, and Mitsukuni Yoshida, MD, PhD, are among the recipients of this year’s McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience Small Grants. The Small Grants Program (SGP) is open to faculty and postdocs at Washington University in St. Louis and is designed to support promising new research projects within the neuroscience community. Each grant totals $100,000 over two years and begins on July 1, 2024.

Ibrahim, an Instructor in the Department of Anesthesiology working within the Moron-Concepcion Lab, is investigating the role of the medial septum-dorsal hippocampal pathway in opioid-seeking behavior. Opioid addiction remains a pressing public health concern, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ibrahim’s research focuses on understanding how the connection between the medial septum and the dorsal hippocampus influences reinforcement and opioid-seeking behaviors. “By systematically probing this neural circuitry, I’ll learn more about the mechanisms driving opioid addiction, paving the way for innovative therapeutic strategies,” says Ibrahim.

Parker, an Instructor in the Department of Anesthesiology working within the McCall Lab, focuses his research on understanding the role of midbrain nociceptinergic neural circuitry—a network of nerve cells that coordinate negative affect and motivation. “Chronic pain often coexists with affective disorders, such as depression and anxiety, severely impacting patients’ quality of life,” says Parker. “My research studies  how these nerve cells and the chemicals they produce, like nociceptin, influence motivation, particularly in the context of chronic pain.” By utilizing cutting-edge techniques like optogenetics, which uses light to control nerve cells, and in vivo fiber photometry, which measures brain activity in real time, Parker aims to map out the pathways in the brain that are affected by chronic pain and understand how they lead to a lack of motivation. This research holds promise for the development of targeted interventions for chronic pain and depression.

Yoshida, a current clinical fellow in Pain Medicine in the department’s Academic Scholar Advancement Program (ASAP), is focusing on the complex relationship between aging, neuronal activity, and longevity. His research aims to understand why aging is a significant risk factor for chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease, and how we might be able to slow down the aging process to prevent these diseases. Yoshida is using a new method to identify which nerve cells are active in the aging brain, allowing him to see how activity patterns change in different parts of the brain as we grow older. “My goal is to uncover new ways to prevent age-related diseases and help people live longer, healthier lives,” says Yoshida.

These research endeavors exemplify the interdisciplinary approach and commitment to excellence within the Department of Anesthesiology and the WashU Medicine community as a whole. Through their groundbreaking work, Drs. Ibrahim, Parker, and Yoshida are advancing the understanding of neural circuitry and behavior, with the ultimate goal of improving human health and well-being.

Learn more about the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience.