Andrea Gomez, a 2021 Rose Hill Innovator, is probing how our brains be taught and alter over time by finding out how the compounds present in psychedelic mushrooms affect mind exercise.
The human mind has an immense energy to alter; over our lifetimes we develop and be taught and shift our beliefs and preferences in regards to the world. We get well from trauma and develop new abilities. With every transformation, our brains forge new connections.
Andrea Gomez, an assistant professor of molecular and cell biology and a college affiliate of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, needs to know the way cells and molecules within the mind allow that flexibility and alter— known as mind plasticity. To know this mind plasticity higher, she’s finding out the impression of psychedelic compounds, resembling these present in psychedelic mushrooms, on mice. These compounds, which embrace psilocybin, provides a managed option to increase mind plasticity, she says.
“These compounds profoundly change the best way individuals really feel and behave lengthy after any publicity to the drugs,” says Gomez. “I feel that understanding how psychedelics change the mind can provide us a window into how we will manipulate the mind in different methods— together with deal with neurological illnesses that impression studying and reminiscence.”
Gomez, who was awarded a 2021 Rose Hill Innovator grant for the challenge, not solely brings a curiosity about neuroscience to her analysis, but in addition a deep appreciation for the traditional roots of psilocybin. A Chicano and Laguna Pueblo Native, she thinks historical information on the drug’s medicinal use is vital to combine into even essentially the most fundamental, molecular research.
“I’m very motivated by making certain that this indigenous information is acknowledged and honored and has the identical respect as western medical improvements,” she says.
A longtime love of science
Regardless of her fascination with what permits the mind to alter, Gomez has had comparatively regular pursuits for many years. She wished to be a scientist way back to she will be able to bear in mind, she says; in second grade in Las Cruces, New Mexico, she declared that she was going to be a microbiologist.
When she was 16, Gomez had her first hands-on analysis expertise, collaborating in “Medicinal Vegetation of the Southwest,” a summer time program at New Mexico State College. She and different college students discovered molecular biology methods—measuring the lively elements of a psychoactive plant, as an illustration. However additionally they approached the medical vegetation via anthropology, discussing subjects like how a plant may also be capable of be woven right into a basket.
Gomez was hooked on analysis and went on to get an undergraduate diploma in biology from Colorado State College, the place her analysis centered on one thing very totally different: what genes and molecules make it potential for crabs to shed their complete exoskeletons within the molting course of.
“This appears very far afield from what I do now,” says Gomez. “Nevertheless it’s truly what first received me fascinated by a few of these basic questions on how an organism can change so drastically over their lifetime.”
It was throughout graduate faculty at New York College that Gomez started to steer her analysis into the neuroscience realm, engaged on pinpointing molecular pathways that permit the mind change. Mind plasticity, she says, walks a fantastic line. An excessive amount of fixed change within the mind would imply we couldn’t retain reminiscences and information, whereas not sufficient change would imply we couldn’t kind new connections within the first place.
All through her early profession, Gomez additionally continued to embrace her background. “I didn’t know any indigenous scientists once I was coaching however I had quite a lot of help via Native American golf equipment and retention applications,” she says.
Launching a Lab
In 2020, Gomez moved from a post-doctoral fellowship on the College of Basel, in Switzerland, to Berkeley to launch her personal lab. However COVID made it not possible to ship the mice she wanted for experiments from Switzerland to the U.S. So when a colleague recommended a unique avenue of labor—finding out the function of psilocybin in mind plasticity— Gomez jumped on board.
“The truth that I had an opportunity to synthesize indigenous science and western science was actually thrilling to me,” says Gomez, who’s now additionally a member of the Berkeley Middle for the Science of Psychedelics and just lately co-founded a Berkeley scholarship for indigenous college students finding out science.
As we speak, she is targeted on how psilocybin adjustments ranges of sure RNA molecules within the mind and, consequently, turns genes on and off. If she will be able to uncover key molecules that enable psilocybin to spice up mind plasticity, pharmaceutical compounds might be developed that improve plasticity in illness contexts. As an illustration, a drug may make it simpler for sufferers with Alzheimer’s illness to kind new reminiscences.
“The truth that our genomes encode data that permits us to alter over time is essentially the most profound and thrilling factor to me,” says Gomez. ”I feel understanding these historical methods helps fulfill my curiosity about how we got here to be, the place we’re going, and the way a lot we will change.”