Name: Jarryd Rigby
Mentor: Tricia Thornton-Wells
My name is Jarryd Rigby and I’m a Bachelor of Science student from the University of Melbourne in Australia. I’m now in my third and final year of this degree, aiming for a major in mathematics and statistics, with specializations in discrete mathematics, operations research, statistics, and stochastic processes. After completing my undergraduate degree I am looking to pursue further study in any one of the above areas of mathematics or, thanks to the VISRA program, bioinformatics.
Throughout my time in the VISRA program I have been in the lab of Dr. Tricia Thornton-Wells. Her lab specializes in the investigation of the genetic and neural bases of psychiatric and developmental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Williams syndrome and Down syndrome. They use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to derive functional and structural brain-based endophenotypes, and they conduct genetic studies to identify novel associations between genes, endophenotypes, and behavior. They employ statistical and computational methods for the joint analysis of genetic and neuroimaging data, known as ‘imaging genetics’.
My time in this lab has seen me working with MRI scans recently taken of both control and Down syndrome subjects with the end goal of validating T1ρ-weighted MRI scans as a means of detecting amyloid beta plaque deposits in the human brain. Amyloid beta plaques are an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, so detecting them as soon as possible is essential for timely intervention. Currently, positron emission tomography (PET) is the only validated way of identifying these plaques in vivo. However, PET scans involve radiation exposure, which is clearly not an ideal way of screening and monitoring patients. I hope that one day the work I have assisted on here will lead to a better life for those suffering from this disease.
I applied to VISRA firstly to get a feeling for what a day in the life of a researcher is like. As research was something I considered as a career option, I saw this opportunity as too good to pass up. Secondly, I wanted the chance to apply my skills to something other than I would normally be able to. I enjoy finding new ways to apply what I have learned, and being thrust into the world of medical research was a great way to be able to do this. Finally, I saw VISRA as a chance to broaden my knowledge and inspire me. Prior to this program, I knew little of imaging technologies, let alone how to read and work with them. As a result of my work here, I feel that I may pursue a career in bioinformatics.
Nashville itself is a wonderful city. From the unforgettable atmosphere of a Predators hockey match, to the food on 21st Avenue, Broadway and 2nd Avenue, to the music at the Grand Ole Opry shows, Nashville really has something for everyone.
I would like to take this chance to thank Amanda Connolly, whose tireless effort and virtually around the clock support has been a tremendous help in settling into a foreign country. I would also like to thank my principal investigator Dr. Tricia Thornton-Wells and my mentor Mary Ellen Koran for welcoming me into their lab and more importantly for all their invaluable help and insight with my project.