Ellen Koch

Measuring glutamate transmission in Huntington's Disease using iGluSnFr, an optogenetic probe
Lynn Raymond

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I have been interested in science and research since I was in high school, especially the life sciences and psychology. I wanted to see what it was like to work in a research lab during my Bachelor's degree, so I completed an honours thesis in Michael Gordon's lab at UBC. I really enjoyed the process of formulating a hypothesis, testing it and then collecting and analyzing data that tells us something new and exciting (that wasn't known before). I enjoyed my time working in research and decided I'd like to continue expanding on my research and scientific skills.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I completed my undergraduate degree and really enjoyed my time here, so when it came time to pursue a graduate degree I applied to other schools as well, but ultimately decided I'd like to continue my studies here at UBC.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

I have been interested in studying the brain since high school. The brain controls complex motor movements, the experience of sensations, emotions, language, and allows you to form memories, solve problems, and have abstract thoughts (and so much more). We still have so much to learn about the brain, and I was interested in learning more and contributing to our knowledge of how this organ works.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

It's so easy to get outdoors in this city - there are so many beautiful beaches, parks and hiking trails, including on campus at UBC!

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

Experience in research was very helpful to have before entering grad school.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I am a certified yoga teacher, and love to teach and practice yoga for relaxation! I also love going to the beach or the park to bask in the sun.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Try to enjoy your experience in research, and not worry too much!


Learn more about Ellen's research

Huntington disease (HD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by an autosomal dominant genetic mutation, and is characterized by motor dysfunction, psychiatric disturbances and cognitive deficits. The striatum, an area of the brain highly involved in action selection, is the main site of degeneration. Glutamate is an important excitatory neurotransmitter and dysfunction in its signalling is linked to pathogenesis of HD. There is currently no cure for HD. I am using an optogenetic probe, the iGluSnFr, which allows sensitive, real-time measurement of glutamate dynamics. Using a mouse model of HD, I am using the iGluSnFr to study changes in glutamate release and receptor activity that may contribute to the disease pathology. I am currently testing the effects of pharmacological manipulation of presynaptic receptors on glutamate release in brain slices from 2-3 month old WT and YAC128 HD mice. In particular, I am focusing on presynaptic NMDA receptors and cannabinoid receptor type 1, which are both known to modulate glutamate release, and changes in signalling and expression of these receptor types could be contributing to pathological glutamate transmission in HD. This research can allow us to understand some of the early mechanisms of the disease, and potentially determine possible therapeutic targets for drug development.