Neuroscience Grad Student Awarded NIH Diversity Fellowship

Jun. 12, 2018

Monique S. Mendes, a neuroscience Ph.D. student, is the first University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) graduate student to receive a prestigious diversity award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders in Stroke (NINDS).  Mendes works in the laboratory of Ania Majewska, Ph.D. and studies the role that the brain’s immune cells play in development, learning, and diseases like Autism.

Mendes, originally from Kingston, Jamaica, received her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Florida. She came to URMC in search of a robust program that focused on glial biology and a collaborative environment.  She chose the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience to complete her thesis work due in part to Majewska’s record of mentoring students and her lab’s reputation for conducting leading research in brain development. 

Mendes has been awarded a F99/K00 NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) fellowship from NINDS.  The award was created to provide outstanding young neuroscientists from diverse backgrounds a pathway to develop independent research careers.  Unlike traditional graduate student fellowships, this award provides research funding for 6 years, including dissertation research and mentored postdoctoral research career development.

The research in Majewska’s lab focuses on specific cells called microglia, which have long been associated with brain health by helping fight off disease and repair damage from injury.  Majewska’s lab has shown that these cells also play a critical role in supporting neurons and fostering the connections between nerve cells.

Mendes is investigating how some molecules, such as P2Y12 (a purinergic molecule that promotes blood clotting) and CX3CR1 (a protein that facilitates immune cell adhesion and migration), affect microglial development and maturation. Using sophisticated two-photon microscope imaging systems, she is studying how certain drugs impact the activity of microglia. The results from this study will expand our understanding of how microglia regulates brain development in healthy individuals and people with neurological disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia. It will also ultimately open new avenues of investigation for Mendes as she develops her career as an independent research scientist.