In females, these neurons may facilitate the development of PCOS, which affects 5 to 10 percent of reproductive-aged women. Women with PCOS have an imbalance of hormones that can lead to irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, acne and fertility problems.
In her lab, Faulkner works with male mouse models that have altered neurons that, unaltered, regulate metabolism. When these neurons are damaged or changed, they not only have an effect on metabolism, but on fertility as well.
Faulkner conducts her studies on male rodent models because these males often show fertility and metabolic characteristics similar to human females with PCOS.
A year after writing her proposal, she can focus more on her research, having secured a $126,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
This grant isn’t her first experience with NIH. Last summer she did an internship there in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She enjoyed her experience so much that after finishing her doctoral program at UT, Faulkner hopes to work for NIH in the National Cancer Institute.
“The skills and methods that I’m learning can be translated to any type of research,” Faulkner said. “The expertise that I picked up here at UT and the NIH will benefit me greatly in pursuing my goal of working in a cancer biology lab.”
The $126,000 grant fully funds her training, tuition and fees, health insurance and travel for conferences for up to five years, taking some of the demand off of her principal investigator Dr. Jennifer Hill, assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology, who also played a role in creating the mouse model used in Faulkner’s research.
“The most important thing was to take the burden off of Dr. Hill,” she said. “The principal investigator has to maintain funding in order to provide for graduate students’ training and research. This allows more funds for other important aspects of the lab.”
Faulkner, who was born in Chicago and raised in Detroit, wanted to ease the financial burden of Hill, but of her family as well.
“I think that the reason I work so hard and am so determined is because my goal is to retire my parents,” she said. “They’ve worked so hard my entire life to support me and my siblings. It’s up to us to ensure that they are comfortable and happy for the rest of their lives.”