Second-year Honors Student Participates in NIAAA Neuroscience Lab
October 14, 2019

A second-year bioinformatics student in the Honors College, Rishitha Anumola has her eyes set on one day becoming a medical doctor. As she prepares to realize her career dreams, Rishitha has already begun making the most of her time by participating in unique research opportunities. Starting in the summer of 2019, Rishitha has been interning in Dr. David Lovinger’s Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience through the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), located in Rockville, Maryland. It is in this lab that she started learning the neuroscientific impacts of cannabinoids on the human brain.

“I decided to participate in this lab because their research areas were of great interest to me,” explains Rishitha. “The legalization of marijuana has been a hot-button issue in the news, and the research that the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience as well as other labs within the… [NIAAA] are crucial in understanding the effects of natural (endo and phytocannabinoids) and synthetic cannabinoids in our bodies.”

Moreover, she shares, this lab has enabled her to gain valuable exposure to neuroscience, which she had not previously studied at VCU. “I was… able to learn a lot about the indirect and direct pathways of the basal ganglia, brain anatomy, and the endocannabinoid system. Since I am hoping to attend medical school and practice medicine, I believe that this research experience will help me tremendously… Being involved in research has helped me to better understand upper-level biological concepts and articulate my thoughts and questions, and it has bolstered my confidence in a professional setting.”

Student sitting at a computer wearing a lab coat

(Rishitha visualizing brain slices under a microscope in the lab)

Working in the lab isn’t always simple, though. Each day, Rishitha admits, there are new complications that require her and her fellow researchers to reevaluate their plans for the day. “The reality of research is that you can do all the planning you want, but you have to take everything day by day. It's not enough to have a daily plan for what you want to accomplish, because chances are that the plan you had originally will change based on the progress of the experiment… Being a part of such pioneering work has taught me the importance of adaptability in the workplace, but also in my lifestyle.”

Luckily, it is through these challenges that Rishitha has been able to find more solid footing in her ability to problem solve, think critically, and overcome unpredictable outcomes while simultaneously learning about the hows and the whys behind lab research. Because of this, she has decided to continue on part-time in the same NIAAA lab during the semester. “This unparalleled experience has been an enriching addition to my academic coursework here at VCU,” says Rishitha, and it’s an experience for which she gives much recognition to the mentors who have guided her along the way.

“First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Shana Augustin for being my dedicated mentor throughout this internship. She patiently taught me all I needed to know about working in the lab and has given me the support and direction I needed to grow as a student this summer. I would like to also thank the other members of the lab for their constant support and encouragement. Last but certainly not least, I would also like to thank Dr. David Lovinger, the Principal Investigator of the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience. Without his support, I would have never been able to enjoy and grow from this amazing experience.”

The Honors College wishes Rishitha the best of luck as she continues her work in this lab and forges her own personal path to becoming a doctor in the years to come!