Hi! My name is Jessie Mano, and I am a rising junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Biology. This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology (SNAP) Laboratory. Located on campus in Jordan Hall, the overall focus of the lab deals with research relating to Depression and Anxiety Disorders. I specifically assisted with the Teen Mood Study, which is the lab’s most recent project that began last year in 2017. This study is set for roughly 4 years and examines whether biological markers of inflammation can predict 18-month course of depression in adolescents who possess Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
MDD is a widespread illness that is projected to be the leading cause of disability by the year 2030. The probability of this illness rises significantly from 5% in early adolescence to 20% by young adulthood. Importantly, the onset of MDD in adolescence adversely affects the course of the disorder. In other words, an early onset of MDD is associated with more severe and longer depressive episodes that are typically obstinate to treatment. The role that development plays in the emergence of depression is evident and widely studied, however little is known about the neurobiological markers that predict the course of depression, which is what the Teen Mood Study aims to investigate through magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Specifically, this study tests the inflammation-glutamatergic model and whether anti-inflammatory biomarkers can moderate associations between glutamate and inflammation in adolescents with MDD, since the severity of depression is hypothesized to be correlated with higher levels of glutamate and pro-inflammatory cytokines.
As a research assistant on this project, I was able to interact with 13-17 year olds who possess Major Depressive Disorder. I administered questionnaires and surveys during behavioral sessions in order to get a stronger sense of how internally depressed the participant currently was. I was also able to backshadow and listen in on official participant Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (K-SADS) interviews. These interviews were conducted in order to ascertain that the participant was eligible to continue with the study by meeting all the criteria necessary for the possession of MDD, and to rule out other comorbidities. The second half of the study deals with mri scans. For these scan sessions, I set up the mri bed and was able to backshadow the scan operator. On the days where there were no participant sessions scheduled, my other duties within the lab included data entry of past participant K-SADS interviews from paper copies onto the RedCap computer system, scoring that RedCap data in R, and quality controlling Diffusion Tensor Imaging of the Superior longitudinal fasciculus fiber tract in the brain.
I was very fortunate to have had this internship because it is well aligned with my interest of Psychology but from a more biological perspective, as I have the long-term goal of earning a PhD in neuroscience. I was able to experience what life is like in a research lab and develop the skills necessary in order to work in one. However, not only was my work engaging, but also the other lab members. I was able to build connections and gain insight on ways to be successful within this field. I am especially grateful that I was assigned to help with the Teen Mood Study because I had the opportunity to work with individuals who possess depression. Growing up in the Bay Area, I have always been surrounded by and know many depressed individuals, which is why I have particular interest in studying this illness. This research opportunity has made me realize how passionate I am about helping others through difficult times. Knowing that my work is helping to find a solution to their problems is a rewarding feeling that I know I desire to continue.
Experiences like Jessie’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff