Of Mice and Twamps

Hi readers – I’m Casey.  A rising junior at the College, declared Biology major, hopeful Math minor, member of the varsity cross country and track team, proud TWAMP and enthusiastic mouse researcher.  Through this blog, I hope to convey the scientific aspect of my research in Professor Paul Heideman’s Lab of Evolutionary Physiology and the exciting, exasperating and everything in between aspects of “doing science.”

I had the distinct pleasure and stroke of luck to become involved in Professor Heideman’s lab in the spring of my freshman year.  I have been a member ever since, and in my humble opinion it is the best lab on campus.  My labmates and I examine the influence of naturally occurring, heritable neuroendocrine variation on reproduction, appetite and body weight.  In other words, we look at how inherent, slight genetic differences between individuals of the same population of the same species differ in a few key biological pathways as a result of this variation.  We use a mouse model for our research, but the greater implications lie in the application to the people.  Think about yourself and your friends.  While you all digest food the same way, you all probably differ in how much you eat, or in how you respond to exercise and your own diets.  This is a loose comparison of what we study in Professor Heideman’s lab.  Right now, we are studying pathways involved in reproduction and fertility.

I stayed in Williamsburg last summer to gain more lab experience.  I became involved in a project dubbed the “GnRH Challenge.”  Last summer, my two labmates and I spent a lot of time working on this project to make very little progress.  We ran into a lot of unexpected roadblocks, but also we learned a ton about the process of science and have since then (hopefully!) worked out all the kinks.  As making time for the project during the school year can be challenging, I decided to again stay in the lab over the summer to make some progress on it.  (And I am deeply grateful for the Charles Center’s generous support!!)  In a nutshell – the GnRH Challenge aims to determine whether luteinizing hormone (LH) levels in the anterior pituitary are more dependent upon gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) levels in the hypothalamus, or pituitary sensitivity to GnRH.  I will get into what all of that means in a later post, but for now that is the gist of it.

Additionally, I will be taking on an old lab project this summer.  Where the GnRH Challenge is still in its infancy of pilot experimentation and data collection, this project is an unfinished one left behind by a former member of the lab.  Professor H and this current grad student are looking to finally tie all of the ends together.  My job would be to analyze the data and work on a draft of a scientific paper meant to publish said data.  I’m particularly excited about both of these endeavors because I am going to be tackling science from both ends – actual experimentation with the GnRH Challenge and the sometimes overlooked yet essential aspect of communicating science from the end of this older project.  It’s going to be a busy summer…stay tuned!


Super excited for Professor H’s famous croquet parties as well…  (Pictured below is most of our lab from last summer.)  Croquet, summer, friends, food and science; what more can a TWAMP ask for?