Entries in research (14)


Can Dancing Improve your Ability to Remember?


A few weeks ago I was on the Green line heading to North Station when I realized that a young woman a few seats away was carrying a pair of tap shoes. My dance background is quite strong, but I haven’t put on my tap shoes in three years. I first started dancing at age three when my mom, some-what frustrated with my high-energy antics, signed me up as a way to tire me out. When I was packing for my summer in Boston, I brought my tap shoes because I knew I wanted to get back into it.

Long story short, I stopped this woman after we got off the train. She recommended a studio for me to look up, and I have been going to tap class once a week ever since.

What surprised me the most about getting back into my shoes was my ability recall dances that I have not seen or performed in years. My dance memory is far better and more accurate than most of my memory. I can even recall dances that I learned for the first time over a decade ago.

Upon investigating the connection between dancers and good long-term memory, I wanted to know what happened in the brain in response to high-intensity dance training and if there were changes in way new long term memories are created or stored. I found that studies have shown that dancers are able to use mental imagery better and with higher reproducibility than non-dancers even in laboratory settings (Blasing et al., 2012). Many areas of the brain are activated during motor learning, included many overlapping areas which could improve devoted concentration and therefore is thought to create a stronger memory. In a case-study, dancers were able to recall dances learned from over three years previously (Steven et al., 2010). The brain function behind long-term kinestetic sequence memory (dance is considered a sequence of steps) is currently not known and is difficult to study. Most studies have focused on ways to disrupt this long-term memory and have not been designed to determine how the disruptions are occurring in the brain, perhaps due to limited tools to study the brains of humans till relatively recently.

Scientists have used both fMRI and PET to study the brains of dancers, but it doesn’t appear that there is much current study using these techniques on long-term dancer memory. Typically, subjects have to remain as still as possible in the large scanners required for these studies. However, a group recently found a way to let ballroom dancers move through the steps with their feet on an inclined apparatus while lying in a PET scan (Blasing et al., 2012). They were able to see activated regions of the brain which were exclusively associated with dancing. This could open the door to more kinesthetic memory based studies using PET and fMRI.


For more information on what we do know about the brain and dance see: Nerurocognitive Control in Dance Perception and Performance (Blasing et al., 2012)

For more information on dance and long-term memory see: Backwards and Forwards in Space and Time: Recalling Dance Movement from Long-Term Memory (Steven et al., 2010)




Fishing for Targets

Following precedent, I will begin by introducing myself. My name is Stephanie Lie, and I am a rising junior at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences currently pursuing a degree in Human Physiology. Upon graduating, I hope to attend medical school, and I am excited to use this summer with the Hooker Group as an opportunity to explore the development and basic science behind some of the technology that I will potentially be using, from a clinical standpoint, in my future career, while also supplementing some of the topics I’m learning in school with some real life experience. Unlike my fellow summer interns, I have not ventured very far from the nest, as I was born and raised in a suburb outside of Boston, and I now attend school and work in and around the city. Therefore, outside of work within the group, I will not have to face the intimidating challenge of navigating a new city; instead, my challenges will lie in transitioning to the life of a suburban commuter and tackling the monster that is Boston auto traffic and the MBTA.

However, I digress. This summer I will be working under the guidance of Ronald on peripheral MR-PET imaging. I am currently looking at data from full body, NHP scans utilizing some of Changning’s HDAC inhibitor tracers that he’s developing for the brain, and hopefully I will find that they specifically bind outside of the brain as well. From the literature, I’m learning that HDACs appear to play an interesting, epigenetic role in many different conditions, whether it be neurodegenerative diseases, psychological disorders, or, of particular interest to me while working in the periphery, cancer. Because these new compounds are focused on use in the brain, my exploration of their effects in the rest of the body are much like that of a fishing boat moving out into uncharted waters: I will make educated guesses as to where to drop lines (or in my case, Volumes of Interest in the images) based on literature and my mentors’ advice, but like with most research, I run the risk of pulling up empty. However, high risk yields high reward, right? The idea of finding an area where one of these compounds effectively binds means potentially finding a tracer for earlier cancer detection in places buried in the thoracic cavity and abdominal region; as someone who wants to go into the medical field, the idea of developing these types of diagnostic tools is pretty cool.

While the overall idea of what I will be doing this summer appears quite straightforward, in my first few weeks here, I have learned and experienced one of the hallmarks of research: translating those ideas into a reality can be far from straightforward. In order to reach the point of textbook perfection that I have seen in my undergraduate courses thus far, there are plenty of imperfections and challenges to overcome first. So far, I’ve had to tackle the learning curves of using various types of imaging software, finding alternatives when the preferred system broke down, and learning the new languages of radiology and computer science, all while facing the challenges of working around the imperfections that come with real-life data acquisition. While it’s certainly been challenging, by single-handedly keeping Google, PubMed, and Wikipedia in business and exploring different computer programs, I’m starting to get my sea legs underneath me, and I’m very excited to see what’s at the end of my lines.    

- Steph Lie


Research vs. Coursework

Before I delve into my topic today, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Jaclyn Smith and I am a junior in Biochemistry and Polymer & Color Chemistry at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Needless to say, my first time in Boston was last week when I got here to start my internship with the Hooker Research Group. It is my first big-city experience, so I constantly feel a little bewildered as to where I am. Hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll know my way around Boston pretty well. I am still deciding my future plans after I finish my undergraduate degree, but am thinking about graduate school or medical school. I have it on good authority that Jacob is an excellent resource to help figure these things out. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

For my project in the lab, I am working on synthesizing a potential PET imaging agent with Genevieve, who is a Post Doc here in the Hooker Research Group. This is my first true research experience, as most of my previous experience was gained in class based laboratories. Most of these are one-or-two credit hour courses with protocols already written out and ready to follow. However, those procedures are for learning and confirming principles. One of my professors eloquently called them, “not real experiments, but exercises,” meaning that there was a correct answer to be discovered while mastering a technique. For example, an exercise may be performed for the experience of using a pipet or seeing how a standard curve is made and used. It is quite useful to learn the basics and to illustrate concepts in a controlled, laboratory setting.

Research, on the other hand, is a quest to discover something in uncharted territory. Using literature as a guide, scientists develop an idea of what they want to achieve and use trial-and-error, intuition, and some luck to make it happen. There are no ‘protocols,’ but past experience is used to develop a plan of what the next steps may be. I jumped in on a project and am just learning the ropes, but Genevieve is guiding me through the process. With her help, I performed a reaction with an 85% yield and set up another reaction more independently today. It felt really good when I took my first NMR ever and confirmed I had the product. Genevieve has an obvious intuition for the chemistry of a reaction and can eloquently explain it but she usually has me explain it to her, ensuring my understanding of the experiment.

While I have enjoyed my lab-based classes in the past, I am finding the creativity involved in research quite appealing. The summer is just beginning, and I feel as though I have learned a ton about research already. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next few weeks as I get more experience and have more chances to try reactions on my own.



One Summer Intern's First Week Experience!

I've never done a blog post before so I'll start with introducing myself. My name is William Taylor and I am a senior Biology major with a minor in Chemistry at Jackson State University in Jackson, MS. I am excited to be here in Boston working with the Hooker Research Group. When I first arrived to the lab I was rushed with feelings of nervousness and anxiousness that comes with any new experience. However, once I began meeting everyone in the lab all of those feelings quickly vanished. Coming from the "Hospitality State" I expected everyone in Boston to be mean and rude, which is a common stereotype of people up north where I come from. However, this was not the case. Everyone in the lab was extremely friendly and welcomed me with open arms. This made me feel welcome and I knew that my experience here would be a positive one. The first day was a little rough because there was a lot of new information thrown at me all at once, which was mentally overwhelming at times, but I learned a lot and was excited to start on my project. I work with Emily and she's an awesome person and an even more awesome teacher that really makes me think outside of the box about everything we do in the lab. She's teaching me how to think like a true independent scientist and I love it.

Since I have only been here for one week I have not gotten to see much of Boston, but I am excited to get out and explore all that it has to offer. I am living in Jamaica Plain for the summer and I love the area and the culture there. Overall, I'm excited to be here, and I will be sure to keep everyone updated on my progress and experiences here this summer. 

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