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Research Core

In the Research core, interns dive into an immersive research experience that allows them to formulate their own projects on the neurobiology of ASD within a team-based and peer-mentoring training environment.


Interns collaborate to form research teams dedicated to developing scientific projects within various research modules such as Behavior, Functional, Cell Biology, Genomics, Molecular Biology, and Computational Biology. During collaborative brainstorming sessions, they formulate scientific foundations and pinpoint gaps in knowledge within their respective fields, leading to the creation of hypotheses and the development of experimental designs. The training encompasses a wide range of skills, including techniques and methods, data processing and analysis, as well as instruction in scientific writing and the creation of research presentations.

The main outcome of the Research core is for interns to gain enduring and applicable scientific skills together with a heightened interest in neuro-developmental disorders research.

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REACH Research Core.

Each team receives training to formulate a hypothesis and design a research project to address relevant ASD-related gaps in knowledge under the guidance of their module’s faculty and student mentors.

Progress reports are presented weekly. The Summer Course ends with a Graduation Ceremony where Teams present their projects.

REACH Research Modules & Teams

By the end of the Lecture core, interns are introduced to lab demonstrations for the techniques and methodologies utilized in each Research Module: Behavioral, Functional, Cell Biology (or Cellular), Molecular biology . Presentations from faculty and students mentors familiarize interns with the kinds of questions each particular module can address, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they complement with other modules. Interns then rank modules based on their interest in the approach and the kinds of questions they are interested to address for potential scientific projects. Faculty allocate interns in Research Teams based on their ranking while maintaining the 2 high school-to-2 college students ratio.


Mentors from each module train, guide and supervise their team of interns to tackle an ASD-related question. Instruction starts with brainstorming sessions to review literature, formulate a hypothesis and design experiments. Interns are trained in the methodology while generating pilot data to assess the feasibility of the proposed project. Interns will receive specific instruction on keeping detailed records of protocols and experiments in their laboratory notebooks.


As interns brainstorm their projects, opportunities for collaboration projects often arise among research teams. Similarly, as work progresses, teams may naturally find themselves establishing new collaborations. If so, mentors of the potentially collaborative teams will assess the feasibility of the collaborative effort and work together with the teams to establish strategies and policies to carry out the planned experiments.

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REACH Research Modules & Teams.

Interns form teams to work in one of four research modules. Each research module focuses on Behavioral, Functional, Cellular and Genomics studies, respectively.

Each team is made up of 4 interns (two high school and two college students) and faculty and student mentors.

REACH Behavioral Module

Behavior can be defined as the output of the nervous system’s function. Therefore, behavioral methods allow the quantification of a subject’s reaction to conditions placed on them in a controlled environment in order to shed light on its underlying neurobiological processes. Projects within the Behavioral module measure indexes of animal conduct to determine phenotypes of interest between an ASD rodent model and the corresponding controls.


Within the Behavioral module, interns can examine prosocial behaviors within an environment that can be manipulated into different social contexts, along with measures of basal locomotion and anxiety. Interns can also measure social communication via recording of ultrasonic vocalizations (USV), observed in pups after brief maternal separation (Hodges et al., 2017-PMID: 2855259).

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REACH Functional Module

In the Functional module, interns use electrophysiological methods to measure the electrical activity of neurons in order to address questions about ASD pertinent to neuronal connectivity.


Projects within the Neuronal function module assess input-output properties between an ASD animal model and the corresponding controls. Interns can examine neuronal function in brain slices cut in a fashion that could contain the areas and connections of interest (e.g. different areas of the limbic system). Microelectrodes are then placed at particular parts of a neuron (e.g. dendrites, cell body) within the areas of interest to examine synaptic or action potential responses.


REACH Cell Biology Module


Projects within the Cell Biology module investigate mechanistic alterations in an ASD animal model compared to corresponding controls. Interns within the module can design projects to examine factors of interest along the transcriptional and translational machinery, and downstream products that modulate synaptic function.

Under the mentor's guidance, students will undertake projects centered on comprehending the cellular biology associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This exploration will involve the application of molecular techniques, including but not limited to immuno histochemistry, western blot, and ELISA. These methodologies will enable students to delve into the intricate aspects of ASD at the cellular level, fostering a deeper understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms.

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Cell Biology
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REACH genomic Module

This genomic module is designed to facilitate students' comprehension of fundamental concepts in epigenetics and genetic mechanisms observed in nature. Through this module, students will gain the ability to conceive and execute projects utilizing advanced techniques like quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and RNA sequencing. These projects aim to provide a deeper understanding of these intricate biological mechanisms 

Projects within the Genomics module use RNA sequencing methods and real-time PCR determinations of targeted genes to examine the transcript profile divergence in the expression of genes between an ASD animal model and controls. Interns carry out large-scale gene expression profile analyses (bio-informatics analysis) in conjunction with the mentors. Interns can carry out comparisons between or within specific cell types or brain regions of interest (e.g. limbic system, basal ganglia) to identify expression changes of genes whose products constitute mechanisms for transcription, translation and synaptic function.

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