Lindsay Schwarz, PhD, an assistant member in the Developmental Neurobiology department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a Centralia native, was recently recognized by the National Institutes of Health with an award to further her research into the workings of the brain.
According to a press release from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Schwarz’ most recent achievement is winning the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health. The program is called the High-Risk, High-Reward research program and it “supports exceptionally creative scientists pursuing research that has potential for broad impact in biomedical, behavioral or social sciences.”
The award is presented to individuals who are in the early stages of their careers and have not yet received a research project grant. The funds are awarded for “highly innovative, high impact” biomedical research.
Schwarz grew up in Centralia and attended Centralia High School. She took an advanced biology class taught by Henri Weeks and got her first taste of molecular biology and working in a lab.
“(B)esides the usual textbook reading and lectures, we had to perform a series of experiments throughout the semester and develop an independent research project. I really loved the hands-on aspect of it, and the camaraderie of working with my classmates in the lab. Those are still my favorite parts of being a scientist!” said Schwarz in an email.
Schwarz said that she is grateful for the experience of growing up in the close-knit community of Centralia. She is glad to have family, friends, former teachers and coaches from her hometown beso supportive and genuinely interested in what she is doing.
Schwarz started working in her own lab in the Neural Circuits and Behavior division at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2017. Her research focuses on studying the organization of neurons in the nervous system and the disruptions which can cause neurological diseases. Schwarz and her team focus on particular cells in the brain and work to create new molecular tools to improve accuracy when targeting certain neural circuits.
The Chronicle asked Schwarz what kind of impact the NIH Director’s Award will have on her research.
“It allows me to take risks with my research, such as buying an expensive piece of equipment, or studying a particularly challenging question, that I might not do otherwise. The goal of this award is to make new tools that will help scientists target cells in the body (in my case the brain) more easily and accurately, so I’m hopeful that people beyond my own lab will find our work useful,” she said.
Schwarz said her career goals include keeping her lab of six people happy and productive as they work on a variety of projects. In the long-term, Schwarz hopes that her research uncovers new insights into the human brain. “Our research focuses on a specific group of neurons that are important for controlling attention, memory, and stress response, and contribute to diseases like depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease,” she explained. Schwarz said she would be thrilled if her research on how the neurons work leads to improvements in treating these diseases.