Interest in brain research led student to Medical College – Marquette joint PhD program
In 2004, Jeannette Vizuete began in the PhD program in Functional Imaging jointly offered by the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University. Jeannette is now nearing completion of the program and the achievement of her PhD.
Through the program, Jeannette has an advisor from both the Medical College and Marquette. Her advisors are Anthony Hudetz, PhD, Professor of Anesthesiology, Physiology, and Biophysics at the Medical College; and Kristina Ropella, PhD, Professor and Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Marquette.
In this Q and A, Jeannette talks about her research, her experience in the program, why she chose this field, and her career aspirations.
Q. What does your research focus on and what is the goal? How does the research involve functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)?
A. Our research interest is in understanding the mechanisms by which anesthetics produce loss of consciousness. We hypothesize that anesthetics produce unconsciousness by disrupting functional information integration within the cortex.
Our team investigates the electrophysiological and hemodynamic response changes that occur in the rat brain at varying depths of anesthesia. Currently, we are performing various experiments with combined EEG and fMRI to better understand the anesthetic-induced loss of consciousness. By combining both we obtain high temporal and spatial resolution and apply advanced signal analysis tools to examine the complex spatial and temporal effects of anesthetics.
Q. How will this research potentially benefit people?
A. Over a hundred thousand patients are anesthetized each day in the US alone. The current monitoring devices for assessing loss of consciousness are empirical and thus at times unwanted side effects have been reported. The significance of this research is that it should lead to a better understanding of anesthetic mechanisms in the brain, aid the design of more specific, safer anesthetic agents and the development of novel techniques based on brain neurophysiology to monitor the depth of anesthesia.
Q. As you look ahead, what are your career aspirations?
A. Overall, I hope to gain experience in various facets of biomedical engineering such as research, academia and industry. Upon graduation, I’d like to first gain some experience working for a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company where I can apply my computer and biomedical engineering expertise in developing and advancing current technology. Ultimately, I plan on becoming a professor where I can teach and once again participate in neuroscience research.
Q. Why did you choose the Medical College – Marquette joint PhD program in functional imaging?
A. I initially started my search for schools that had a well-established biomedical engineering graduate program and was close to Illinois since I have a lot of my family living there. Next I was interested in the types of research each school had to offer. What really impressed me about this program was how the two institutions have extensively worked together. There are numerous research opportunities especially in neuroscience (stroke, anesthesia, motor control), and students have the opportunity to take courses in either institution. The Medical College was also one of the pioneering institutions of fMRI that focused on functional as opposed to the anatomical relationships in the brain.
Q. In your experience, what are the respective strengths that the Medical College and Marquette bring to the program?
A. The strengths that these two institutions have are the wide opportunities of research and courses that students can choose to further their skills and knowledge. My engineering courses were taken at Marquette while most of the physiology courses were taken at the Medical College. Furthermore, I am frequently communicating with both of my advisors from each institution to update them on my progress. Obtaining different perspectives and informative advice from each institution has helped to strengthen the objective, design and support of my research.
Q. Where are you from? Where did you go to college and what is your undergraduate degree in?
A. I was born in Chicago, Illinois. Originally my family comes from South America (my mother is from Peru, my father is from Ecuador). I moved to Florida when I was 12 years and I attended the University of Florida in Gainesville (Go Gators!) where I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Engineering in 2003.
Q. Why did you choose this field of research?
A. I have always been interested in neuroscience research and understanding consciousness itself is one of the most interesting and challenging areas of research. I became interested in neuroscience research because my grandfather has been diagnosed with dementia possibly caused by a silent stroke. I wasn’t sure what this meant, or why or how it happened. I recall when visiting him, he did not remember who I was or my father (his son). That is when I decided that I wanted my research to involve the study of the brain.
Within the first year of the program I visited several labs at the Medical College and Marquette. I picked Anesthesiology in Dr. Anthony Hudetz’s lab because here I would not only be analyzing data, but have an opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the study. I really wanted to learn how to perform my own surgeries, acquire the data and analyze. Furthermore, the idea of not really knowing how to define consciousness, where in the brain it originates from, or how we lose and gain consciousness really fascinated me.