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Headshot of Claire Lipton in front of a red brick wall.

Claire Lipton invited to speak at Touchscreen Cognition: 4th International Touchscreen Symposium

Claire Lipton, an on-campus Bachelor of Health Sciences student, recently had the opportunity to speak at the Touchscreen Cognition: 4th International Touchscreen Symposium. She was invited to speak at the symposium about her research findings from her recently completed project regarding novel methods in manipulating rodent learning and cognition.

Claire agreed to answer some questions about her experience and how the BHSc program helped prepare her to be successful both in completing this project, as well as in sharing her findings with other leaders in the field.

How did you get involved in the research you've been a part of?

The Translational Cognitive Neuroscience Lab (TCNLab), based out of Western University, focuses on uncovering underlying mechanisms of cognition, with a goal of developing specific treatment strategies for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. The lab uses cutting-edge methods, such as touchscreen-based systems, to observe and manipulate the brain in mice while they engage in cognitive tests similar or identical to those used in humans. The touchscreen-based systems involve images on screens that mice interact with by pressing the screen with their noses to receive a reward in the form of strawberry milkshake when they answer correctly.

For as long as I can remember I have had an interest and passion for neuroscience, which motivated me to seek out opportunities to gain knowledge and experience. Nearly two years ago, I was able to connect with the principal investigators of the TCNLab, Dr. Lisa Saksida and Dr. Tim Bussey, and have had the privilege to be involved with the TCNLab ever since.

Can you provide a bit more information about your/ your team's research? 

I have had the honour of working with Olivia Ghosh-Swaby, a PhD Candidate in Neuroscience, to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that underlie cognition. Our research focused on examining the role of a particular type of neuron, called adult born neurons, in an element of learning and memory called pattern separation. We used optogenetics, a technique in which a light source is connected directly to the brain, to modify neuronal activity and evaluated cognitive performance on a touchscreen-based task that specifically assessed pattern separation.

What interests you about this topic?

My family’s history with neurodegenerative disorders, as well as my own personal experiences, sparked my passion for neuroscience at a very young age. Additionally, my natural inclination to understand the bodily mechanisms and processes that support our everyday functioning made this field of study particularly interesting to me. Furthering our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie cognition is necessary to explore how these are affected in various conditions such as Traumatic Brain Injuries or Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, this knowledge will contribute to a larger goal of developing more specific treatment strategies for brain disorders based on evaluation of individual symptoms and what is occurring in the brain to produce them.

What skills have you learned from this experience that you think will be helpful for your future career?

My experience with the TCNLab has allowed me to developed a vast array of skills and amass valuable experiential knowledge. In addition to hands-on experience conducting research with mice, I have learned several fundamental skills, such as how to critically read research papers or develop creative solutions to problems that arise throughout the research process. Learning how to create and deliver a scientific research presentation was a great experience that strengthened my ability to communicate the various elements of a research project effectively. Most importantly, I have learned how to collaborate with peers to share knowledge and data, a skill that will be invaluable to me both as a student and in my future.

What did your experience presenting at the Touchscreen Cognition: 4th International Touchscreen Symposium look like?

Presenting at the Touchscreen Cognition: 4th International Touchscreen Symposium provided me with an incredible opportunity to disseminate our findings, and more importantly, receive questions and feedback from other bright minds in the field. Though held online due to the pandemic, the enthusiasm, support, and interest shown by the audience during my presentation and throughout the entire symposium was incredible. It was evident how passionate each attendee was about touchscreen-based research, and I was amazed to see the diversity of research conducted within the field.

How has the BHSc program helped prepare you for research and the process of then presenting your research?

The BHSc core courses have taught me how to evaluate and make connections between underlying physiological mechanisms, and helped me to develop an understanding of research methods that allowed me to conduct research effectively. Additionally, the BHSc program has emphasized the importance of being a collaborator and communicator in my field of study. In a situation ripe with opportunity to gain insight from established researchers and scientists, prioritizing collaboration and communication was vital in order for me to extract as much value as possible from the research process and experience presenting at the symposium.

What advice would you give to other BHSc students?

I would strongly encourage BHSc students to look at every interaction they will have, whether it be with a peer in a class, TA, or professor, as an opportunity to learn, collaborate, and exchange wisdom. Approaching these situations with a growth mindset will ensure you come away with new knowledge and make a positive impact on others as well. Additionally, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to seek out feedback as much as possible, especially from those who are particularly experienced and knowledgeable. While it can be nerve-racking at times, receiving feedback on assignments, presentations, or interactions with a group will help you continue to grow and learn as a student, better equipping you for future success.