Jaclyn Schwarz, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware, has been named the 2017 Neuroscientist of the Year by the Delaware Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).
The award was presented at the annual Delaware Neuroscience Symposium
and Poster Session in December. The symposium, sponsored by the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research
and the Delaware chapter of SfN, also featured 48 poster presentations
by graduate students, undergraduates and postdoctoral researchers from
throughout the state.
Schwarz conducts research on how activation of the immune system—the
body’s defense against infection—early in life, or even before birth,
influences the brain and behavior throughout the lifespan. Among the
disorders that might be linked to an early exposure to infection are
autism, which is generally diagnosed in early childhood, and
schizophrenia, often diagnosed in late adolescence.
“There is a strong link between early-life immune activation and
later problems,” Schwarz said. “The question is: Why? How does this
happen? Immune activation is supposed to be good for us; it protects us
from disease. But somehow, in some contexts, it’s harmful.”
For example, she said, previous research has established that if a
pregnant woman gets influenza in her second or third trimester, her
child has an increased risk of mental health problems later in life.
But, of course, many children whose mothers were exposed to the flu
while pregnant never develop such problems, so Schwarz theorizes that
the exposure to infection might be just the first factor leading to
“We call the early immune activation a ‘priming,’ but it can’t be the
only factor,” she said. “Somehow, later in life for some of these
children, something derails the normal trajectory of development.”
Schwarz’s lab currently has three active research projects. In one,
her team is studying early-life immune activation to learn if males are
more vulnerable than females to the effects, including learning
disabilities, which are more prevalent in boys than girls.
She is also exploring if the changes that occur in a woman’s immune
system during pregnancy can affect the immune cells in her own brain and
possibly increase the risk of postpartum depression.
Her third research project is investigating the impact of the Zika
virus in a pregnant woman on the brain development of her fetus.
“I see all three of these projects as interconnected,” Schwarz said. “The immune system is the common factor.”
More about the symposium
Featured speakers at the event were researchers Randy Blakely,
professor of biomedical science at the Florida Atlantic University Brain
Institute; Margaret McCarthy, professor of pharmacology at the
University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Tirin Moore, professor of
neurobiology at Stanford University’s Center for Mind, Brain and
Following are the awards for poster presentations given in several categories at the symposium.
First place, Erin Crowgey, Nemours Children’s Health System
Second place, Jaclyn Caccese, UD Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology
Graduate students, all from UD:
Undergraduate students, all from UD:
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Evan Krape