Jonathan Sens, 2015 Goldwater Scholar

“When I first entered the University of Dayton, I had envisioned myself as a medical doctor,” Dayton alumnus Jonathon Sens said when asked about his early career aspirations. This quickly changed after Sens worked under the late Dr. Craig Lunte on a project supported by a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates fellowship. “I immediately fell in love with the idea that I could come up with a novel scientific question, and, moreover, that I had the means to investigate and answer that question,” Sens would say.

At the end of the REU fellowship, Sens learned about the neuropsychopharmacology research conducted in Dr. Pothitos Pitychoutis’ laboratory at Dayton and quickly asked to join Pitychoutis’ research group. S ens led two independent research projects. The first focused on uncovering the sex- and time-dependent neurochemical and biochemical effects of the rapid-acting antidepressant drug ketamine. In his study, Sens used in vivo brain microdialysis in mice to investigate how communication between neurons was affected by antidepressant-relevant doses of the drug. Reflecting on his work, Sens stated, “Not only did it challenge me technically, but this work also offered invaluable insight into the biological mechanisms underlying ketamine’s antidepressant-like effects. I was excited to think that my work could contribute to the development of sex-oriented and more effective drug therapies for major depressive disorder (MDD).”

A second project in Dr. Pitychoutis’ laboratory followed. “Studies have demonstrated that women experience MDD at roughly twice the rate of men and that many patients who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are at a much greater risk of developing MDD,” Sens said. Sens used a mouse model of sickness behavior to better understand how immune stimulation could impact depressive-like behavioral and neurochemical responses in male and female mice. Sens has presented this work at several national and international conferences, most notably, at the 2015 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting. Results from this research most recently resulted in Jonathon’s first lead-author publication in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.

During his time in Dr. Pitychoutis’ laboratory, Jonathon formed an invaluable relationship with his mentor that would also help solidify his plans to pursue a career as an academic scientist. Sens recalled, “Aside from emphasizing that we do good science, Dr. Pitychoutis said that his main goal as a mentor was to help students think ‘outside of the box’. From my perspective, he certainly accomplished that.”

Sens was a mentor to several of his peers, noting, “It is always exciting to see someone develop a similar interest in science. For me, mentoring students was not simply teaching them how to pipette properly or perform an experiment, but rather, helping them learn to formulate their own scientific questions and ideas, just like Drs. Lunte and Pitychoutis had done for me.” He further explained, “the moments when you and your peers get lost in a scientific debate, are quite frankly, intoxicating.”

Sens received graduate school offers from several prestigious programs. He recalled, “At nearly every graduate school interview, the Goldwater scholarship was a major talking point. It seemed that every faculty member immediately knew I was passionate about pursuing a career in science and in research.” Ultimately, Sens decided to join Mayo Clinic’s Neurobiology of Disease graduate program and has since joined Dr. John D. Fryer’s laboratory. “I knew that Mayo Clinic’s graduate program was the right choice for me. Given their emphasis on ‘bench-to-bedside’ research, I was very excited by the prospect that my work could help those who suffer from some of the most devastating and debilitating neurological disorders.” In his current position as a graduate student, Sens continues to follow his passion by studying the role of the brain’s immune system on the pathogenesis and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease.