Erin Mazerolle sheds light on white matter in the brain
PhD student Erin Mazerolle is using her ‘gray matter’ to understand ‘white matter,’ the crucial wiring tissue that connects the different parts of our brains. Her brain-imaging work will help in understanding, diagnosing and treating neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS).
Erin is one of 20 gifted neuroscience trainees pursuing her passion for research at Dalhousie University, thanks to Molly Appeal donors who contributed to the Molly Neuroscience Training Program four years ago.
Now in the third year of her PhD, Erin has already played a key role in a breakthrough discovery. She and her supervisor, Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, used functional brain imaging to see white matter at work—something the scientific community had previously deemed impossible.
“White matter forms the ‘information highways’ of the brain,” Erin says. “It connects the regions of gray matter, where the processing is done, so the brain can function as an integrated whole.”
White matter function is impaired in MS, certain forms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), schizophrenia and other neurological disorders. Now that Dr. D’Arcy and Erin have found a way to trace white matter activity, researchers will be able to learn more about the origins and progression of these disorders, how to diagnose them earlier and more accurately, and how treatments may protect white matter or repair damage.
Erin hopes to pursue postdoctoral studies in brain imaging at a prestigious institution abroad, then bring her knew knowledge home to the Maritimes as a junior member of faculty at Dalhousie. “I love research and want to make my career in science,” says Erin, who was named by Chatelaine magazine as one of Canada’s top 80 women to watch. “In my spare time, I do a lot of science outreach with kids, such as a girls’ science club. I’d like to see more young women pursuing careers in science.”