Brain Research with the Bachstetter Lab
In honor of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, this podcast features Adam Bachstetter and Danielle Lyons, a postdoctoral scholar in his lab, in the Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center (SCOBIRC).
Bachstetter and Lyons are partnering on a three-year study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, which focuses on how glial cells in the brain are altered with aging.
Bachstetter explains, “We’re at the very early stages of understanding how glial cells become dysfunctional, what makes them not healthy. If we can figure out what are the processes, what are the signals, what’s the biochemistry of this, then we can start to develop ways to target those processes to develop drugs that could potentially treat people who have had a traumatic brain injury or people who are at risk for developing a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s.”
Brain Research with the Bachstetter Lab - Podcast Transcript
Alicia: Welcome to the research podcast. I’m Alicia Gregory, Director of Research Communications at the University of Kentucky. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and today, we’ll highlight the Bachstetter Lab in the UK Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center. In this podcast, we will meet assistant professor Adam Bachstetter, and postdoc Danielle Lyons. They study how glial cells interact with neurons to support brain health.
Adam Bachstetter: My name is Adam Bachstetter, I am an assistant professor in the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center at the University of Kentucky. And I run my own lab so it’s the Bachstetter Lab.
My dad was a carpenter, there wasn’t really anybody in my family who were scientists or doctors. So I didn’t really have a lot influence, of kind of any role models that I could think of. So science wasn’t something that was actually in my original plan.
As a kid I actually want to go into the FBI. I was really, still am, obsessed with you know TV law shows. And I think the FBI was something that I thought would be really fun to do and I was really into mix martial arts at the time. So I thought that “Oh, this is a way I could use my skills.”
Adam Bachstetter: I went to college in Columbus, Ohio at Capital University. It’s a small liberal arts college. As an undergrad I was in a psychology program because I was pre-law. And I went to work at a neuroscience lab as an internship. And it was just that was the experience that sort of sparked my interest. I was studying neurons and study and looking at really one of the classic ways to look at neurons, which is the Golgi stain, which is how the neuronal doctrine was really established. And just being able to see the neurons and looking at them was such a beautiful experience and it kind of really just got me excited about it. That was the end.
And then I did my graduate work at South Florida, and then I started my postdoctoral work at Northwestern University and then moved here to University of Kentucky and finish some postdoctoral work.
Danielle Lyons: I’m Danielle Lyons, I work in Adam Bachstetter’s lab as a postdoctoral scholar at the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center at the University of Kentucky. I grew up in Simpsonville, Kentucky, which is an hour from Lexington. So I am home-grown Kentucky-bred girl. When it was kind of a decision on where to go to college and graduate school, the University of Kentucky was a no-brainer.
My mom was an accountant for a while then she left and became a realtor, kind of while being a stay-at-home mom. So, she’s awesome. Then my dad works at the Toyota Plant in Georgetown, Kentucky.
I wanted to be everything, which is still kind of my problem. So anything that was trying to change the world, and I know that’s very corny but that’s true.
Danielle Lyons: You can’t always pinpoint it to one person that determines, you know, what inspires you. But I think for me it was all of these little steps that I just attribute to the Lord like leading me to science. And he used many people to do that. I mean, there was a high school teacher that saw my love for science in my junior year and just giving me this project and I kind of ran with it. And then, when I was in college I was working in two labs. And I loved both; one was science and one was psychology so I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
Why I choose to actually become a neuroscientist was my mom. She has a very distinctive disease called trigeminal neuropathic pain, trigeminal neuralgia, and there’s not very good treatment for it. And that was kind of when I was like, you know what, I’m going to go in and try to do something for it. And when you go in you think you’re like going to cure everything, but you realize you can’t do everything but you can do a small part, and that small part can help someone else do a small part and someone else do a small part, and then it just builds on each other and that’s the magic of science.
Adam Bachstetter: Being my own PI, it’s really great being able to mentor students and working and interacting with the team, being able to have them interact with other colleagues that I have. And kind of teach them new techniques and allow them to explore and grow as a scientist themselves. Which is really what I here for more is to help them grow.
I’m still that the beginning stages of my career. So I’m lucky that am able to both get into the lab a little bit more than maybe I be able to later. A lot of days are spent writing and reviewing papers and kind of directing my postdoc and other members in the lab to helping them design their experiments. It’s more that I’m here to help the facilitate them to design how they’re going to conduct their experiments, and kind of teach them how those experiments should run.
Danielle Lyons: I really… I really like Adam, I really like working with him. I love the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Center. That’s actually one of the thing I love most about science because no day looks the same. So one day we’ll be doing… isolating microglial cells from mice and we will be looking at flow cytometry data, like seeing the cells. Another day, we will be doing MRIs, which is kind of where we’re at right now. Looking at different types of MRI sequences and collaborating with another lab to do that, along with the MRI spectroscopy core here. And determining what can we measure after a traumatic brain injury. And so every day is different.
Adam Bachstetter: The most challenging aspect of research is when you really have been working on an idea for a while. You have a strong feeling that it will work, but you just can’t figure out what is the step that is making not. You just… so it’s the most challenge but also the most exciting. You saw my postdoc came in today and she said, “Ah-ha it finally worked today!” And that’s what’s really exciting.
Danielle Lyons: We were just working on this project and we couldn’t figure out this protocol and you’ll kind of came in right when we like figured it out and it’s exciting. But you just… you work, work, work and you try really hard, and then if it doesn’t work out exactly the way I want it to work out, that’s hard. So you have to handle defeat and then you just have to persevere knowing that one day, it will.
There is a moment, and you don’t get it all the time, but when you find something out that no one else knows. And so for a split second, you are the only person in the world that knows that. And so that’s just a revelation, that’s just special, a special moment.
Adam Bachstetter: We’re really interested in how cells other than the neurons, so glial cell and its immune cell the microglial, interact with neurons to contribute to the development of diseases; particularly age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. And we are working on how traumatic brain injury might alter those cells in some way, either damage the cell or cause a recruitment, in the case of the microglial, or macrophage, to the brain. And that those cells may contribute to the development of disease progression for Alzheimer’s disease, or make it so that you’re at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or other age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
Danielle Lyons: So the project that we’re working on right now is, the whole lab is based upon looking at neuro-inflammation after traumatic brain injury. So the one project that I am really kind of interested in is actually what happens after a traumatic brain injury and how can we look at that in MRIs. So using those different sequences. So how can we measure cerebral blood flow, how can we measure astrocytic growth and the varied acidities, how can you look at edema? And using MRIs and other confocal techniques you can look and determine what is happening what time points are important. And in the future, I mean, hopefully maybe some drugs can help those issues.
Adam Bachstetter: I think the future of our science is, we’re at the very early stages of understanding how glial cells become dysfunctional. What makes them not healthy? If we can figure out what are the processes, what are the signaling, what’s the biochemistry of this, then we can start to develop ways to modify or target those processes. To develop drugs that could potentially treat people who have had a traumatic brain injury, or people who are at risk for developing a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s disease.
Danielle Lyons: Well, I love the University of Kentucky just in general. It’s just home to me. I love that I feel like I can go into multiple people’s labs and ask them for help on understanding a protocol or understanding a new area and understanding how to work a machine and they’ll help me.
Adam Bachstetter: UK’s environment is just incredibly collaborative, it’s just a great place to work. So many colleagues are always helping each, working together. And having that support and that team, that environment, just everybody being family, just makes it a great place to be. A very productive place to be.
Alicia: Thank you for listening to the research podcast. To subscribe to our podcast on Soundcloud or iTunes, search University of Kentucky research media. And visit our site; reveal.uky.edu