Deborah M. Kurrasch
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Preferred method of communication
Research and teaching
My current research program can be broadly divided into three domains: basic, translational, and drug discovery. On the basic science side, we seek to understand how neurons organize themselves into nuclei. Although two-thirds of our brain is functionally organized into defined neuronal clusters (versus layers such as in the cortex), we know comparatively little about the cellular and molecular mechanisms that guide newborn neurons into their respective nuclei. We study this question using the hypothalamus as our model system in both mice and zebrafish. As we learn more about hypothalamic development, our translational program seeks to apply this knowledge to study how environmental challenges during development (e.g., maternal stress, maternal obesity, environmental toxicants) are translated into alterations in hypothalamic cytoarchitecture, ultimately leading to diseases later in life. Through this work, we have uncovered a role for microglia in shaping hypothalamic development, and understanding the functional role for microglia during embryonic development has become a major focus of my lab. Finally, we have developed a drug discovery platform that relies on zebrafish genetic models of human brain disorders. In collaboration with Dr Jong Rho, we developed a drug screening platform that has a unique approach to uncover novel anticonvulsant drugs. Our lead compound is starting clinical trials in late 2017. We are now pivoting this platform to models of autism and also rare diseases for which no therapeutic options exist.