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Alan Kim

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

Mentor: Dr. Lena Smirnova

“Synaptogenesis assay for developmental neurotoxicity testing in a human 3D brain model”

Alan Kim, a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University, has received IFER funding from 2021-2024 for his project, “Synaptogenesis assay for developmental neurotoxicity testing in a human 3D brain model.” The goal of Alan’s project is to develop a quantitative in vitro model of synaptogenesis, the formation of synapses between neurons in the nervous system. Synapses are structures that allow neurons to communicate with one another through chemical or electrical signals. Synaptogenesis is believed to be disrupted in autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Rather than using animal models to study developmental neurotoxicity, Alan will engineer a human cell-based model to study this instead. He will be working with human induced pluripotent stem cells and genetically editing them to express different fluorescent tags. He will be differentiating those cells into neurons and other cell types of the nervous system and growing the cells into 3D brain organoids. The genes that were inserted into the cells enable the labeling of pre- and post-synaptic markers with different fluorescent tags. Alan will use image analysis to identify synapses based on where these markers co-localize and will investigate whether chemicals can disrupt synaptogenesis during the development of the brain organoid model.