Cocas Lab’s NIH-Funded Research Studies Multiple Sclerosis, More
Biology professor and students study myelination and nerve impulses
By Ally O'Connor ‘20
In just her second year at SCU, Assistant Professor Laura Cocas (Biology) serves as principal investigator in a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke-funded lab, which studies the molecular mechanisms that underlie the formation of neural circuits. Cocas’ research, supported by a sizable grant from the National Institute of Health, is seeking to better understand the demyelination that occurs in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Cocas and her seven-student team study the role of neuronal activity in the development of neural circuits and myelination, as well as the importance of adhesion proteins in neuronal migration, synapse formation, and circuit development.
Glad to offer positions to students, Cocas has fostered close relationships with the members of her team, most of whom work ten hours a week and often full time in the summers. One such student, Alekhya Parvathaneni ‘21 (Biology & Economics), claims her position in the lab, which she has had since 2017, has inspired her to consider an MD-PhD. Parvathaneni notes that Cocas’ instruction has allowed her to “learn so many things that I would not necessarily be taught in class.”
Cocas studied Neuroscience as an undergraduate at Pitzer College. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georgetown, and was a Neuroscience Fulbright Fellow in Switzerland at the University of Basel. She notes that she has been “interested in the development of connectivity in the brain for some time... [The] regulation of myelination in the brain is not well understood.” In attempting a greater understanding of myelination, Cocas’ work would lead to more medical progress in studying diseases like MS, strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and more, in which demyelination occurs.