Wendy Dong

MSTP in PhD Training

Program: Computational and Systems Biology

Current advisor: Jeffrey Milbrandt, MD, PhD

Undergraduate university: Duke University, 2021

Enrollment year: 2021

Research summary
Elucidating the role of Schwann cells in axon degeneration

My PhD thesis mentor is Dr. Jeffrey Milbrandt, and my co-mentor is Dr. Peter Jin.

I am interested in the bi-directional relationship between Schwann cells and neurons, and how this relationship impacts axon degeneration. Schwann cells play a role in not only insulating electrical conduction within neurons, but also repairing axons, maintaining axonal health, and communicating with the immune system. Previous work in the lab has shown that disrupting metabolic pathways in the Schwann cells, such as LBK1, Tfam, LDH, and INSR/IGF1R pathways, can lead to axon degeneration. Surprisingly, different degrees of impairment in sensory neurons compared to motor neurons were observed when certain metabolic pathways are disrupted. I hope to use advanced genomics technology, including next-generation sequencing, single-cell analytics, and spatial transcriptomics, to understand why there are different vulnerabilities of sensory versus motor neurons in response to perturbations of Schwann cell metabolic pathways. These findings will help us understand the role of Schwann cells in axon degeneration and potentially highlight new therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.

Graduate publications