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CMU graduate student receives prestigious NIH neuroscience scholarship to study sensory perception

| Author: Kate Worster

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a research grant to Central Michigan University doctoral student, Emmanuel Crespo. The NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award supports a defined pathway across career stages (F99/K00 award) for outstanding graduate students from diverse backgrounds.

Crespo’s research takes place in the College of Medicine’s Bioluminescent Optogenetics Lab. The lab’s principal investigator is Ute Hochgeschwender, M.D., CMU professor of neuroscience.

“Throughout our lifespans, we interact and navigate our external world using multiple senses to guide our behaviors,” said Crespo. “The neocortex is the part of the brain focused on high level cognitive abilities such as language and sensory and motor functions. I will test how neocortical sensory processing can be altered by aberrant neural activity early in life.”

Crespo’s research has application in neurodevelopmental syndromes such as autism spectrum disorders. Sensory perceptual deficits, often presenting as hypersensitivity, are present in more than 95 percent of children diagnosed with ASD.

Awarded in July 2022, the grant has two phases. The first supports the completion of the doctoral dissertation in the Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BCMB) Graduate Program. After completing a Ph.D., Crespo’s award will move to the four-year postdoctoral phase, when he will complete additional training before starting his career as a tenure track faculty member with his own laboratory.

“This is the first time a CMU graduate student has received this award,” said Hochgeschwender.  “Of all D-SPAN awards, 96% are given to graduate students at universities with very high research activities, with almost half of the awardees from just a dozen universities (including Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford). Manny has demonstrated that an excellent individual can beat the odds. This is reassuring and inspiring to current and potential future CMU graduate students.”