The line of young neuroscientists from different backgrounds follows their scientific roots in the "Laboratory of Fear" in Puerto Rico, which the National Institutes of Health have been supporting for two decades. So far, the laboratory has published 80 papers, some of which are from Puerto Rica for certain magazines, which generated more than 2,000 quotations a year. Out of 130 young people who have been trained in the lab, 90 percent are from Puerto Rico and Latin America, and half are women.
"Like most laboratories, it's crucial to boost intellectual growth through journalistic clubs, laboratory meetings, weekly individual meetings, and the philosophy of scientific withdrawals," said founder of Dr. Sc. Gregory Quirk. "Properly done, these four activities develop the skills of logic, communication, and intellectual curiosity in the participants and at the same time create group cohesiveness."
After completing a postdoctoral scholarship at New York University, New York, under a well-known researcher of fear of Joseph LeDoux, Quirk launched a laboratory in 1997 at the Ponce University, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Ten years later, she moved to the current position at the University of Puerto Rico Medical School in San Juan, adding some studies on human and non-human primates.
Quirk gives advice on his approach to fostering discovery and mentoring "out of the beaten track" in an article published on January 30, 2018 in the Journal of Neuroscience. It denotes almost two decades of the first publication of the lab in that magazine, which showed that the ventral median prefrontal cortex was essential for consolidating the memory of extinction (loss of fear) in rodents.
Soon after, the group announced the news that in nature it was discovered that in the infralimbial cortex, the brain equivalent of "all clear" signals was discovered, that, when implanted by electric stimulation, the conditioned fear was paralyzed in the rat. Since then, the lab has been the leader of translation studies that extend insights from the experiment of learning to extinction to mental disorders.
For example, in 2015, they discovered a discovery of the potential significance of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – that memory of old fears reminds a particular path of the brain than the one originally used to recall it when it was fresh.
"My laboratory recently investigated the circuits of active avoidance, obsessive-compulsive disorder and frustration by stimulating deep brain, optogenetics and CRISPR-Cas9 technique," added Quirk.
As the key to the success of the laboratory, it is approved by the National Institute of NIH Mental Health Institute (NIMH). For example, the first NIMH award was renewed four times. The Laboratory was also the first in Puerto Rico, which received the presidential prize for her early career and the MERIT prize.
"Other grants for Puerto Rico were CONTE Center P50 subaward, Independence Path Award (K99-R00) for my postdoc, and Dissertation Completion Awards (R36) for my graduate students – all funded by NIMH," Quirk pointed out .
Quirk's report contains comments from former participants, which he collected during a recent gathering that celebrated the 20th anniversary of the lab. For example, "After years of JClubs, you will never be satisfied with the moderate efforts," commented a former doctorate in compulsory magazines clubs.
Weekly lab meetings began with meditation, and "respect" set a tone that encourages collaboration culture, Quirk said. Rotating presentations of the participants ensure that everyone knows what each person works / thinks in the lab and can help with its routing.
"It was impressive when I found a member of the Quirk Lab who presented a poster of another member and was not part of the study: lab meetings turned each member into the defenders of other projects," a former student noted.
Laboratory members are encouraged to overcome any tendency to be socially polite and courageously ask each other's questions, Quirk said. The same high standard is expected in a written statement. "The Six-Eye Rule" implies that the manuscripts criticize the three external readers before submitting them to the journal.
"You're writing for a brain that is not yours," he pointed out.
The idea that what Quirk lovingly calls "Face Time" – individual meetings one by one – comes from students. "This was a solid deadline for my data to be visible and I remind Grega about the importance of my project," said one current post-doc.
Every three days each laboratory uses the funds of the university to guide the mountains to withdraw the philosophy of science. "Instead of discussing the data, the idea of withdrawal is to examine philosophical questions that define us as scientists and the foundation of our approach to scientific issues," explains Quirk.
"The withdrawal gave me the confidence to rely on other people in the lab," he noted the current undergraduate study. Each student or post-doc mentors two to four students.
In the recent NIMH Message Manager, reflecting Fear Laboratory attendants at the last year's meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, director of NIMH, Dr. Sc. Joshua A Gordon, wrote: "Dr. Quirk is a NIMH long-time scholarship who was supporting and acting as an effective mentor, enabling numerous undergraduate and graduate students who went to the stardom of neuroscience.