NAD Fellow year: 2024

Zhen Li

MSc in Human Biology, University of Copenhagen

Lab rotations - pre-PhD year

Lab Rotation 1

Palner Lab, Department of Clinical Research, University of Southern Denmark w/PI Associate Professor Mikael Palner

In the Palner Lab, Zhen is running a project measuring changes in metabolic connectivity in rats following a dose of rapamycin. Rapamycin is a ligand for the mTOR receptor (mammalian target of rapamycin), a promising target for cognitive enhancement in neurodegenerative disorders.

Meet Zhen Li

With a background in biology, Zhen Li was drawn to neuroscience when she discovered the breadth of techniques used within the field.

Zhen Li completed her master’s degree in Human Biology from the University of Copenhagen in 2023, doing her master’s thesis in the Sørensen Lab at the Department of Neuroscience where she has since continued work as a research assistant:

“I am not sure if this will change, but right now, I am interested in using animal models to figure out the mechanisms behind psychiatric disorders like depression and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism”, Zhen explains.

Zhen’s interest in neuroscience was sparked during her bachelor’s when she took a course in pharmacology. This opened Zhen’s eyes to the breadth of techniques used within the field of neuroscience, for example how electrical techniques like patch clamp and optogenetics can be combined with biology.

Later in her education, when working with a fatty liver mouse model in which the mice were fed a high-fat diet, Zhen discovered that she was less interested in the size of the livers and more interested in how the mice behaved differently due to the changes in their diet and bodies. As such, a combination of an interest in the brain’s inner workings and the possibility to employ a wide array of techniques is what drew Zhen to neuroscience.

As someone with a limited neuroscience background, Zhen will utilise the pre-PhD year to establish a solid foundation of knowledge and techniques:

“I actually only have one year of experience within neuroscience, so I want to explore more possibilities within the field (…) I prefer a rotation programme as opposed to a classical PhD position,” Zhen explains.

For her first rotation, Zhen will join the Palner Lab at the University in Southern Denmark where she will gain experience within PET scanning and imaging techniques:

“If I want to do something in vivo, I need to know techniques like PET scanning that will allow me to see the brain activity in living animals instead of in brain slices. It is more accurate and also more connected to clinical research,” Zhen says.