A Quick Q&A With Neuroscience Researcher Danielle Santana Coelho

1) Your name, program, mentor name.

Danielle Santana Coelho, IBMS Neuroscience Track, Dr. Jason O’Connor

2) When did you realize you were passionate about science?

In the first month of my undergraduate program I started to work in a laboratory investigating the anticonvulsant potential of medicinal plants. That first contact with science made me fall in love with it. The fact that those plant extracts could prevent the development of seizures was something that amazed me and also made me interested in understanding what would be the mechanisms by which those plant extracts could have anticonvulsant properties. This was my introduction to science and the experience that first got me excited about it.

3) Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health Science Center, and your program.

I am originally from Brazil where I did my masters degree in Neuroscience before joining the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. When I was applying for Ph.D. programs I already knew what field and subjects I was interested in. I found all of it at UT Health San Antonio with a bonus, which was a collaborative environment. Those were the reasons that made me choose UT Health San Antonio as the university to get my doctorate training. I believed that I would be well trained here and acquire all the necessary skills to be successful in my career.

4) Tell me about your research. Why are you passionate about your research topic? How did you first become interested in it?

Even before I joined UT Health San Antonio, I was interested in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. While working on my master’s degree I had the opportunity to give talks in public schools about developmental disorders and this was the first contact that I had with autistic kids. Autism is a complex disorder, and various factors can contribute to its development. In Dr. Jason O’Connor’s laboratory, I work on a project investigating genetic and environmental factors that can contribute to the development of autism in order to identify targets for development of new therapies.

5) What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?

We are trying to discover targets for the development of preventive measures and/or therapies for autism. Currently, other than behavioral therapy, there are not many drugs that can ameliorate the symptoms of autism. Those drugs cause several side effects which make the patient quit on the treatment. This is why our research is so important. If we can discover what to target to avoid the disruption of neurodevelopment or ameliorate the symptoms of autism, we could help to improve significantly the quality of life of autistic patients and their caregivers.

6) What was your best memory during graduate school or what did you learn?

The day I passed my qualifying exam was definitely my best memory during grad school. During my qualifying exam I learned that as a scientist, having knowledge is not enough. You have to be able to critically think and put all your knowledge together to come up with new ideas and really make a difference in the development of science.

7 ) What do you like to do outside of graduate school?

I am a really social person so I enjoy hanging out with my friends, going out, cooking, and trying new things. As I was not born in this country, there are a lot of things here that I haven’t tried yet.

8) What’s next?

Before graduation there is a lot to do still. We are taking a step forward on my project and starting to work with marmosets in a tentative way to test our hypothesis in a more human-relevant primate model. I am looking forward to see the results we are going to have from those experiments.

Photo Credit: Lester Rosebrock

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The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio offers academic programs in the biomedical sciences.