Our postdoctoral researchers are integral to the scientific discoveries made at the OHSU Brain Institute. We strive to mentor and challenge our postdocs to take control of their careers. Through professional development, strong mentorships, unique collaborations, and resources for research and funding, we welcome the future of neuroscience to train with us.
Postdoctoral Spotlight: Ernesto Manzo, Ph.D.
I was first exposed to biological research as a junior at Swarthmore College when I was offered an internship position at the Clinic for Special Children's genetics laboratory serving the Amish and Mennonite Plain population. Understanding the segregation of mutations within an insulated population allows for effective and early treatment. To participate and witness the process of science unfold in this way inspired me to pursue a career in biological research. After teaching middle school science for two years in Tucson, Arizona, I obtained my Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. There, I studied a fruit fly model of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). One joyful moment came when we identified that glycolysis was upregulated in patients with ALS. We assumed that this was a defect caused by the disease, but to our surprise, genetically increasing glycolysis in our ALS fly model alleviated their symptoms - suggesting that upregulating glycolysis is neuroprotective. In 2019, I was able to continue my scientific career by becoming a Postdoctoral Fellow with Marc Freeman, Ph.D.
My extensive experience with Drosophila techniques, as well as a strong molecular biology background, allowed me to seek out a position with one of the world’s most renowned neuroscientists: Marc Freeman. Dr. Freeman has made a multitude of discoveries that have transformed the way the field thinks about how the brain responds to injury. To have the opportunity to be mentored by a neuroscience pioneer was something I could not pass up. Aside from Dr. Freeman’s intellectual prowess, he is someone who cares about my wellbeing as an underrepresented scientist. Before I stepped foot on OHSU’s campus Dr. Freeman introduced me to the OHSU Fellowship for Diversity in Research (OFDIR) program currently spearheaded by Dr. Letisha Wyatt and Dr. Angela Ozburn. They work tirelessly to break down academic barriers and promote scientific inclusion and diversity. In short, I came to OHSU because there are people here who I admire, and who have virtues I hope to emulate in my life.
My scientific goal is to continue to use genetics tools in Drosophila to answer a fundamental question in biology: How do neurons degenerate? Degenerating neurons is a central feature of all neurodegenerative diseases – yet we have a rudimentary understanding of this process occurs. Our laboratory identified the first “axon death” signaling molecule (dSarm/Sarm1), whose loss completely blocks axon degeneration. I am currently conducting an F1 screen to define the cellular and molecular signaling mechanisms that promote axon loss. Understanding these basic triggers for axonal degeneration can be used to block axonal and synaptic loss and maintain function after neural trauma or in disease. Ultimately, such therapeutic approaches should provide better outcomes for patients with nervous system injuries and neurodegenerative disease.
The summers in Portland are fantastic. I was raised in Southern California, and lived 8 years in Arizona. I never understood why there were so many popular songs written about the summer. That is, until I was able to live through a Portland Summer with its long days and luscious trees. There is something magical about a brightly lit - 100 foot Douglas-fir at 8:30 PM in the middle of the summer. I also respect what I call Portland Values – which I consider to be the love of the outdoors, general regard for one another, and being environmentally conscious.
I met my wife playing in a mariachi band at Swarthmore College called Los Parangaricutirimicuaros. We now have two daughters together (ages 1 and 3), and enjoy running in the park with them. When we are not running with the girls we like to garden, hike, bike, and spend time outside. We have started to become more comfortable with the rain, and even leave our umbrellas home in the winter. I see our umbrella-phobic transformation as a sign that Portland is becoming our home.