Jorge Maldonado De-Jesus joined the MBM program on May 16, 2018, while a first-year graduate student, and is expected to graduate in 2022. His graduate program is neuroscience and he completed his undergraduate degree in applied biotechnology in the Ana G. Nendez University System, Universidad del Este in Puerto Rico. He is the first in his family to attend college. His research topics include imaging, brain plasticity, and molecular neuroscience.
Maldonado De-Jesus has presented his research at multiple venues, including the Society for Neuroscience Conference (2018 & 2019) and the MBM Retreat (2018 & 2019). His presentation on “Spatial Light Interference Microscopy (SLIM) Revealed Myelin Differences Quantified in De and Dys/myelination Mouse Models” won Honorable Mention for Best Poster Presentation at the 2019 MBM Retreat. He participated in other trainee activities such as the Kickoff meeting, Summer Journal Club readings/discussion meetings, Frontiers in Miniature Brain Machinery lectures, and the MBM Retreat. In January 2021, he presented a virtual poster on behalf of the MBM Program at the annual NSF-Research Traineeship meeting.
Research Highlights (in his own words):
I am a graduate student from the Neuroscience Program (NSP) at the Cellular and Neuroscience laboratory that is led by prof Catherine Best Popescu. In the lab, my work is focused on understanding brain inflammation and degeneration using new imaging techniques. I have been analyzing different mice models of brain inflammation or degeneration using Spatial Light Interference microscopy imaging (SLIM). For instance, using SLIM I can quantify the tissue dry mass with picogram sensitivity or automatically analyze changes in tissue organization.
Some of these mice are modeling key pathological processes that produce brain lesions and white matter degeneration, both features in Multiple sclerosis. I am investigating brain structure and myelinated areas that are deteriorated during specific environmental susceptibilities or genetic mutations. I have been quantifying tissue structure organization and dry mass in brain and spinal cord areas in a MYRF icKO model using SLIM. We have seen changes associated to degeneration and inflammation degree in several structural parameters. Our study offers a practical protocol that could be used as a platform to screen drug effectiveness and other therapeutics that could reduce inflammation in animal models, to quantify and measure the effects in brain structure.
Maldonado De-Jesus served as a member of the MBM Student Leadership Council (2019-2020) and coordinated the MBM booth at the Urbana Farmer’s Market (June 2019). He also collaborated with other trainees on MBM’s entry for the Beckman Virtual Open House (March 2021). Other outreach activities include SfN Night at the Student Village in the UIUC Neuroscience Program (2019) and Brain Awareness 2019 at Orpheum Museum (CNI Lab exhibit). He is completing lab rotations under the advisement of Gabriel Popescu and Hee Jung Chung.
He has served as an active mentor to undergraduate students and minors. He is currently mentoring undergraduate students in Biology, Electrical Engineering, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Bioengineering, whom he meets with weekly and gives support and guidance on their respective projects and academic goals. He has also mentored a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student (Summer 2019). In addition, as an outreach activity he presented a lecture and demonstration on electrophysiology to middle school students through the Neurophysiology Bootcamp at Academy High-School in Champaign on June 27, 2019.
Moreover, he has lectured to fourth- and fifth-grade students after an invitation from the Family Coordinator Nohemi Campos at Dr. Williams Elementary School in Urbana, Illinois on understanding the brain functions on February 14, 2019. During the quarantine period, the contact with undergrads has been in a weekly fashion via Zoom. During these meetings, they have been working on the development of proposals and reviewing literature about autoimmunity and demyelinating disease mice models. In January 2021, he gave a virtual lecture to Urbana Middle School 8th grade students on “Using Neuroscience Knowledge to Strengthen Good Habits.”
Maldonado De-Jesus has completed the Special Topics in MBM course and coursework in research ethics & responsibilities, integrative neuroscience, techniques in biomolecular engineering, psychophysiology, design & use of biomaterials, eukaryotic signaling, and other coursework related to neuroscience and stem cells. In August 2018, he participated in the EBICS Engineering Cellular Systems Summer School. From October 2020 through January 2021, he completed an external research exchange in Dr. Rashid Bashir’s lab.
Research Exchange Experience (in his own words):
I have been also examining the resulting neuronal network structure from co-cultures of microglia and neurons derived from hIPSC. We used Gradient Light Interference Microscopy (GLIM), which is a very convenient tool for samples that are either too confluent or thick. These cultures for instance have packed tissue-like areas formed by cell clusters. This gave us a great advantage to detect any changes in dry mass, and even better to measure structural parameters overtime and study the network structure dynamic. That way we could quantify, track, and assess parameters of network maturation and stabilization to better understand more complex cellular cultures.
How has the traineeship benefited me?
The MBM program has offered me many professional workshops on leadership and research seminars throughout the year, that added a great deal to my doctoral experience. These complementary experiences also enriched my academic credentials and professional competencies. Some of these workshops’ content were even adapted to the current virtual format, and hence were very useful and well-timed. Besides, the inclusive collaborative environment that involves different academic disciplines to study organoids is a remarkable way to approach new ideas from different angles.