Lexi Kepler ’19 tells us about her exciting work on Autism Spectrum Disorders at UBC’s Rankin Lab.

What’s your Question?

Why do we sleep and dream?

I’m looking at the molecular basis of sleep, and the biological reasons why the brain needs it. I have a particular interest in the relationship between sleep and psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Why did you choose Quest?

A member of Quest Admissions came to my high school and told me about the university. The Block Plan and campus location really caught my attention. I started my application that same day!

What do you think of the Block Plan?

Taking one class at a time means you can develop close relationships with your Tutors. I think there’s great value in that! Also, the Block Plan allows you the option to take months off, which can be used to conduct research at another university or pursue other fun opportunities.

This summer you worked at UBC’s Rankin Lab. That’s impressive! Tell us about that.

I was working with Troy McDiarmid, who is a PhD candidate at the Rankin Lab. He was conducting research on a gene that has been associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders using C. elegans, which are a type of microscopic worm! Troy designed a new CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing strategy that allows you to replace a C. elegans gene with a related human gene. He was looking at the pathogenicity of different point mutations in the PTEN gene that have been found in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I was involved with different tasks for this project, including maintaining worm strains, working on plasmids, collecting phenotype data using their multi-worm tracker, and making CRISPR injection mixes.

Working with Troy, and everyone at the Rankin Lab, was so incredible—I highly recommend students reach out to labs at other universities to gain research experience.

You’ll be doing your Keystone at that same lab?

Yes, for a portion of my Keystone I’ll be setting up calcium imaging at the Rankin Lab. Calcium imaging is a really cool technique that measures the movement of calcium ions across cellular membranes and can be used to track the activity of neurons. We are hopefully going to be able to look at specific neuron activity in C. elegans that have genetic mutations associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Any advice for Quest students?

If there is a specific course not being offered in your field, you can always do a semester at another university thanks to Quest’s flexibility. That’s one of the beauties of Quest—you’re really able to design your education.


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