My background begins as an animal scientist. I have always had a fascination with mammals. I hail from a large city (El Paso, TX) and started off thinking that veterinary school was the only option for someone who had a passion for animals. As an undergraduate I was introduced to the possibility of working in a laboratory setting to understand how animals work from a physiological and cellular standpoint.
I completed a master’s degree at New Mexico State University and worked on a project in which I investigated the role of toxic weeds and how they affect reproduction and liver metabolism in sheep. I then went on to a Ph.D. program in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona, where I worked with Dr. Robert Collier, whose area of research is focused on mammary gland and environmental physiology. It is there that I became fascinated with how the mammary gland functions and is regulated at a nutritional, endocrinological and molecular level. My dissertation focused on characterizing the serotonergic system in the bovine model using a combination of in vivo and in vitro techniques.
I then went on to become a Post-Doctoral Fellow on the Developmental Biology Training Grant at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology under the guidance of Dr. Nelson Horseman in June 2008. Dr. Horseman was the first to discover that the mammary gland synthesizes serotonin. My projects as a post-doctoral fellow were vast, and I worked on the role of serotonin on tight junction function in the mammary gland, the role of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on lactogenesis, the effects of serotonin on breast cancer, and the role of serotonin in regulating parathyroid hormone related-protein production in the mammary gland. As a result of these experiments, we have secured a patent and have another one pending.
My experience as a post-doctoral fellow provided the framework for my current research program which focuses on serotonin and how it affects maternal metabolism at the onset of lactation. Furthermore, the mentorship I received during my Ph.D. from Dr. Collier and my post-doctoral fellowship from Dr. Horseman, have provided me with the training necessary to transition into a faculty role at the University of Wisconsin.
Our laboratory focuses on performing cutting research in mammary gland physiology, having fun as a laboratory group, and providing a lot of outreach and service not only in our community here on campus and in Madison, but across the country.
Currently we are working on various projects with the central them being the involvement of serotonin on the regulation of milk synthesis and how that coordinates maternal metabolism. We use both mouse and cow models, as well as various in vitro techniques. Our primary interest is how serotonin affects maternal metabolism during lactation, particularly calcium and glucose homeostasis. We are currently specifically focused on the effects of SSRI use during pregnancy and lactation on long-term maternal bone health for which we recently obtained and R01 grant to focus on this research. Additionally, our USDA funded research has been focused on understanding how serotonin controls hyopcalcemia in dairy cows.
Dr. Horseman’s Retirement Party, 2015. Got to celebrate with Dr. Bob Collier (my Ph.D. advisor) and my graduate student Sam Weaver. Three generations of mammary gland biologists!