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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Amelia Ashley Mutso, Northwestern Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program

Amelia Mutso

Where is your hometown?
I grew up in Lancaster, Penn.

What is your educational background?
I graduated in 2008 from Haverford College with a major in psychology, a minor in German, and a concentration in neural and behavioral studies. As an undergrad at Haverford, I did my undergraduate thesis in biological psychology investigating neuroendocrine factors on empathy for pain in mouse models. Haverford was a great school for undergraduate researchers. Since there were no graduate students or postdocs, all the research was done by the principal investigators (PIs) and undergrads. This meant I was able to experience “real” research at an early point in my career and realize it was something I loved to do. I also spent each summer doing undergraduate research in the psychology departments of both Haverford and Northwestern University.

What are your research interests?
We know that chronic pain patients exhibit increased anxiety, depression, and deficits in learning and memory. Yet how persistent pain affects the key brain area regulating these behaviors, the hippocampus, has not been investigated. My main interest is to determine how the hippocampus is impacted by, and is involved in, the evolution of chronic pain. I’m also generally interested in cortical involvement in pain processing, interactions between stress, anxiety, and pain, as well as hippocampal neurogenesis.

What exciting projects are you working on? 
I think everything I’ve worked on is exciting, but my current project is investigating the impact of hippocampal neurogenesis on persistent pain behavior. This stems from a study I published last spring showing that hippocampal neurogenesis is downregulated in animals with chronic neuropathic pain. Furthermore, what is great about my lab is that research takes place in both animal models and human pain patients. Because of this, I can extend what I find in animal models to human subjects. 

I recently finished a study determining how hippocampal functional connectivity in back pain patients progresses differently in patients whose pain persists and those who recover.

What attracted you to the NUIN program? 
NUIN was unique from other programs in several ways. First, having the ability to rotate through labs before deciding on a thesis lab was very appealing to me. It provided an opportunity to learn new techniques and delve into various research topics before finding one that was right. Second, I was really attracted to NUIN because the program accepts students from a variety of undergraduate majors and experiences, and then has everyone take a first-year curriculum of basic neuroscience so everyone is equipped with similar background. I knew that when graduating from this program, I would have a strong fundamental knowledge of the larger field of neuroscience, not just in my sub-specialty of chronic pain. Lastly, the strong collaborative research environment and strength of the research faculty was very attractive.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
I would say the best overall experience is the constant collaboration between labs. For my thesis, I am actively working across four different labs in several departments to complete my research, in addition to my home lab. Because of the positive collaborative environment, my thesis research is greatly strengthened from the insight, techniques, and support from these collaborators. 

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
They are at the top of their field, supportive, and collaborative.

What do you do in your free time?
In my free time, I love to ice skate, foster kittens for PAWS Chicago, cheer on the Cubs, and explore new and exciting restaurants throughout Chicago. 

What are your plans for after graduation?
I will be graduating this spring quarter and am currently looking for either postdoctoral opportunities or staff scientist positions in the Chicago area. I want to continue to be hands-on with research, but I also love the administration and management side of science (which seems to be rare) and would like to find a way to incorporate this into what I do. 

Connect with Amelia on LinkedIn