It has been a great first month of summer working remotely with the Takahashi Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. The main focus of this lab is to explore the development of the human brain across infancy through out young adulthood and compare this development to that of other species. The specific project that I am working on with my post-doctorate student is tracking the development of a white matter track called the Arcuate Fasciculus in baby humans, macaques, and chimpanzees using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). In humans, this track is responsible for our speech abilities. Since other primates such as macaques (which are your typical monkey) and chimpanzees are unable to talk, it was believed that they do not possess this track. However, recent research has shown that these primates may actually have a homologous track to the arcuate. This is exactly why the project that I am working on is being performed in the first place – this information is so new that any finding we find will be extremely useful to the field of developmental neuroscience. Whether our data is consistent or inconsistent with the prior research findings, it is going to be valuable and publish-worthy information.
The specific role that I have in this larger project is quite fascinating, especially since I get to do a great deal of the tracking work by myself. A typical day for me includes using the software TrackVis to isolate this white matter track in baby macaque data and then clean it up using several filters so that it is easier to compare and extract numerical diffusion data from in the future. I was given a rather large data set which I have the responsibility to complete, so I am certainly busy these days. This data is going to be used in our analysis of the arcuate in macaques and then compared to data we extract from baby humans and chimpanzees in order to make a final conclusion about whether this track appears truly homologous and how it develops across species. I also have weekly lab meetings with my post-doc student where we discuss any new lab matters and anything else ranging from new scientific articles to anthropological discussions. My post-doctorate student completed a degree in anthropology before switching over to the dark side that is neuroscience, so our lab meetings often get off topic to other interesting matters. Although I am slightly upset that I am not working in person this summer, my lab is deciding on possibly meeting in person once a month for lab meeting to mix things up a bit.
Since I will be starting my senior thesis this summer, my main goal is to get most of my data sets completed so that I can begin to simultaneously do the lab work needed for my post-doctorate student as well as the lab work I need to do for my thesis. I am also very excited to be participating in the Brandeis summer poster fair and am looking forward to creating a poster detailing the research that I am participating in. I am not sure what findings we will extract from our data, but I am definitely excited to analyze it and begin making some conclusions.