About

Mélise Edwards
Spaulding-Smith Fellow
Founder of M.U.S.E. Mentorship
Sponsored Rock Climber

“Science results from a profoundly social process. The common portrayal—that science emerges from a solitary isolated genius, always laboring alone, not owing anything to anyone—is simply wrong.”

Dr. Michael Gazzaniga

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

Audre Lorde

UMass Amherst ’24
Neuroscience & Behavior PhD

I am a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Agnès Lacreuse currently studying sex differences in aging and the effects of sex hormones on cognition and behavior in the common marmoset. With an interest in primate behavior, sex hormones, disease pathology and age-related cognitive decline, I employ a few different techniques to better understand sex differences in age-related changes in the brain and behavior. I use next generation sequencing to look at changes in gene expression in brain regions important for learning and memory and cognitive testing paradigms to assess age-related changes in cognitive performance. In the lab of my co-advisor, Dr. Courtney Babbitt, I also work with marmoset induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and will begin a project evaluating the role of estradiol on synaptic homeostasis with in vivo and in vitro techniques.

Outside of graduate school, I am passionate about activism, anti-racism, photography, music, running and rock-climbing. I created a mentorship platform and 501(c)(3) nonprofit called MUSE (mentorship for underrepresented STEM enthusiasts) which aims to provide representation and mentorship for underrepresented groups in STEM fields. I also enjoy doing educational outreach and have been a nationally sponsored rock-climber for eight years with many first female ascents. I started the ‘women’s climbing night’ at our local gym to provide a welcoming environment for women and nonbinary climbers and teach clinics, give talks and provide training advice upon request.

My Research Aims to Combine

RNA Sequencing

Electrophysiology

Primate behavior

Neuroimaging

Cell culture

Pharmacology

Research Experience

Graduate Student
University of Massachusetts Amherst
(2019 – present)
I spearheaded a next generation sequencing project for the first time in the Lacreuse lab in order to investigate the relationship between gene expression and cognitive performance in the marmoset. I designed a 3D-printed brain matrix and independently wrote a protocol for an RNA-sequencing workflow. I implemented and designed a qPCR workflow for the first time in our lab to investigate aromatase expression in the brain in animals treated with aromatase inhibitors. My findings so far suggest that the aromatase inhibitor Letrozole may cross the blood brain barrier and underlie cognitive impairments and other side effects commonly reported with aromatase inhibitors.
I also wrote and implemented an odor discrimination protocol to assess changes in odor detection and discrimination in young versus aged marmosets. I contributed to the design and implementation of our odor testing apparatus while training and assisting undergraduate students with odor testing, data analysis and writing. This ongoing work has revealed an inverse correlation between visual and odor performance in the marmosets, suggesting a compensatory trade off with age.
My current projects involve bulk RNA-sequencing of brain regions important for learning and memory to assess age-related changes in gene expression. I am also learning cell culture and electrophysiology to gather preliminary data for an F31 and am mentoring three undergraduate students in the lab and one Honors Thesis project.

Lab Manager
VA Medical Center Puget Sound
(2018 – 2019)
I oversaw all aspects of research in the lab of Dr. Ernie Blevins including (but not limited to) ordering research tools and equipment, hiring and training technicians, managing undergraduate volunteers, designing and carrying out experiments, organizing lab meetings and collecting and analyzing data, spearheaded surgical and chemical denervation of brown adipose tissue in rodent models, and optimized our stereotaxic surgeries (ventricular [3V, 4V] cannula surgeries, temperature transponder implants, infusion minipump implants), animal enrichment and drug administration. Our findings highlighted the effectiveness of oxytocin as an adjunct with beta-3 agonist (CL316234) to reduce adiposity and uncovered novel pathways through which oxytocin elicits weight loss.

Research Associate
Allen Institute for Brain Science
(2016 – 2018)
I contributed to visual behavior and neural coding projects by performing cranial windowing surgeries on transgenic mice for in-vivo two-photon calcium imaging and trained transgenic mice to detect changes in natural and artificial scenery while recording their neuronal activity, resulting in co-authorship on a manuscript. This manuscript was significant in the field because it provides a large, publicly available dataset of 59,610 recorded neurons across 243 mice and showed that neurons in the visual cortex selectively respond to a variety of stimuli. These novel techniques which rely on standard noise and grating stimuli uncover functional differences in cell type-specific responses across cortical layers.

Undergraduate Research Assistant
Appalachian State University
(2011- 2013)
Under the mentorship of Dr. Lynn Siefferman, I worked with a wild population of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) in order to look at the relationship between personality, food supplementation and reproductive success. In addition to analyzing bluebird feathers with spectrophotometry, monitoring fledglings, behavioral field observations and recording responses to conspecifics, I wrote my senior thesis on the effects of food supplementation and conspecific aggression on personality and mate choice. The significance of this work found that males became more aggressive with chronic supplemental food, however female behavior remained consistent across experimental and control groups. This work highlights how flexible behavior can be adaptive and increase reproductive success, demonstrating the importance of environmental heterogeneity in understanding the evolution of animal personality.


Active Extracurricular Involvement

President, Founder of MUSE Mentorship (pending 501c3 status)

Steering Committee – Bioinformatics User Group (BUG), UMass Amherst

Student Committee American Society for Primatologists

Graduate Student Senate, UMass Amherst

Advisory Committee to the Dean, UMass Amherst

NSB FARA (faculty anti-racism action) Group – 5 Focus Committees, UMass Amherst

IDGP Diversity Committee, UMass Amherst

Outreach Committee, UMass Amherst

3 Minute Thesis Graduate Organizer, UMass Amherst

3 Minute Thesis Community Day Organizer, UMass Amherst

Women’s Climb Night Leader, Central Rock Gym, Amherst, MA

Letters to a PreScientist Pen Pal Program


Publications

Edwards, M., Johnson, M., Fernandez, R., Montgomery, B., Adelaja, A., Akingbade, T.
Mentoring to Foster a Diverse Future. Cell Press 183, 3, 561–563 (October 2020.)

Edwards, M., Nguyen, H., Herbertson, A., Dodson, A., Wietecha, T., Wolden-Hanson, T.,
Graham, J., Havel, P., Blevins, J. Chronic Hindbrain Administration of Oxytocin is Sufficient to Elicit Weight Loss in Male Diet-Induced Obese Mice. (In Review, Journal of Physiology)

Edwards, M., Golub, E., Lacreuse, A. Trade-offs in olfactory and visual discrimination
performance with age in the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus.) (In preparation.)

De Vries, S., Lacoq, J., Buice, M., Groblewski, P., [and 71 others including Edwards, M.] The
Allen Brain Observatory: An open, standardized physiological survey reveals higher order
coding throughout the mouse visual cortex. Nature Neuroscience 23, 138–151 (2020).

Siefferman, L., Doyle, A., Edwards, M., Harris, M., Jones, J. Male bluebirds show adaptive
plasticity in nest defense behavior. (In preparation.)


Presentations

Edwards, M., Nguyen, H., Herbertson, A., Dodson, A., Vered, R., Wolden-Hanson, T., Graham,
J., Havel, P., Mundinger, T., Sikkema, C, Peskind, E., Nguyen, N., Ryu, V., Taborsky, G.,
Blevins, J. Sympathetic innervation of interscapular brown adipose tissue is not required for
oxytocin (OT) to elicit weight loss and promote BAT thermogenesis in DIO mice. Experimental Biology Conference. [Virtual Conference.] March 2021.

Edwards, M., Nguyen, H., Herbertson, A., Dodson, A., Vered, R., Wolden-Hanson, T., Graham,
J., Havel, P., Mundinger, T., Sikkema, C, Peskind, E., Nguyen, N., Ryu, V., Taborsky, G.,
Blevins, J. Sympathetic innervation of interscapular brown adipose tissue is not required for
CNS oxytocin (OT) to reduce weight gain, adiposity, and promote BAT thermogenesis in DIO
rats. Experimental Biology Conference. [Virtual Conference.] March 2021.

Edwards, M., Lam, S., Ranjan, R., Pereira, M., Remage-Healey, L., Babbitt, C., Huang, W.,
Winokur, S., Silva-Gotay, A., Lacreuse, A. Aromatase inhibition and gene expression of
aromatase and estrogen receptors in the marmoset hippocampus. Marmoset Bioscience
Symposium [Virtual Conference.] October 2020.

Edwards, M., Nguyen, H.K., Herbertson, A.J., Dodson, A.D., Wietecha, T., Wolden-Hanson,
T., Graham, J.L., Havel, P.J , and J.E. Blevins. Chronic hindbrain administration of oxytocin
elicits weight loss in high fat diet-induced obese mice. Society for the Study of Ingestive
Behavior meeting. Portland, Oregon. July 2020.

Edwards, M. Age-related Cognitive Decline in the Common Marmoset. Data Blitz Speaker at
the NEURON Conference at Quinnipiac University in North Haven, Connecticut. February
2020.

Golub, E., Edwards, M., Workman, K., Lacreuse, A. Olfactory Discrimination in the Common
Marmoset. NEURON Conference at Quinnipiac University. North Haven, Connecticut. February 2020.

Blevins, J.E., Edwards, M., Nguyen, H., Herbertson, A., Dodson, A., Wietecha, T., Wolden-
Hanson, T., Graham, J., and Havel, P. Chronic hindbrain administration of oxytocin elicits
weight loss in high fat diet-induced obese mice. Experimental Biology Meeting. San Diego, CA, April 2020.

Blevins, J., Edwards, M., Nguyen, H., Herbertson, A., Dodson, A., Wolden-Hanson, T.,
Graham, J., and Havel, P. Effects of combined oxytocin and beta-3 receptor agonist (CL 316243) treatment on body weight and adiposity in high fat diet-induced obese rats. Experimental Biology Meeting. San Diego, CA, April 2020.

M. Edwards., E. Rothwell, K. Workman, A. Lacreuse. “The Marmoset as a Model for Human
Cognitive Aging.” Poster presentation delivered at the Center for Neuroendocrine Studies
Symposium, Amherst, MA. September 2019.

Edwards, M., Nguyen, H., Roberts, Z., Wolden-Hanson, T., Chukri, D., Ryu, V., Vaughan, C.,
Bales, K., Graham, J., Havel, P., and Blevins, J. Chronic oxytocin treatment elicits weight loss in diet-induced obese rodents and nonhuman primates. 13th World Congress on Neurohypophysial Hormones. Dead Sea, Israel. April, 2019.

Cho, A., Edwards, M., Groblewski, P., Howard, R., Luviano, J., Mace, K., Nayan, C., Swapp,
J., Taylor, T., Williford, A., Zeng, H. Optimization of Surgical Training for Production and
Non-Production Projects. Allen Institute Showcase Symposium, Seattle, WA. December 2017.


Community Engagement & Mentorship

International Journal Club presenter for Alzheimer’s and Dementia at Neuroscience Next.
November 2020.

Edwards, M. The Importance of Representative Mentorship. Invited Speaker for the DASL
Symposium hosted by the University of California San Diego. Virtual Event. October 2020.

Black in Neuroscience panel on mentorship and educational outreach. Invited speaker. August 2020.

Spaulding-Smith panel for first year PhD students. Invited speaker. August 2020.

Neuroscience and Behavior panel for first year PhD students. Volunteer speaker. August 2020.

Mentor to nine undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students during my first 3 semesters of my PhD for the Lacreuse lab and MUSE Mentorship.


Professional Memberships

Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
Scientists Center for Animal Welfare
American Society on Aging June 2020
Gerontological Society of America
Society for the Study of Evolution
American Physiological Society
Society for Neuroscience
American Society of Primatologists


Awards

Graduate Predissertation Award, UMass Amherst. 2020.
Neuroscholars Program, Society for Neuroscience. 2020
NSF GRFP Honorable Mention, NSF. 2020
CRF Travel award, UMass Amherst. 2020
CRF Grant Writing Program Acceptance, UMass Amherst. 2020
Spaulding-Smith Fellowship, UMass Amherst. 2020
On-Ramp Program Awardee, UMass Amherst. 2020
BINC Fellow, BINC. 2012-2013.

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Est 2019

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