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The Role of Stress in Disease: Q&A With Featured Research Trainee Stephanie Bowles, PhD
Editor’s Note: Our Featured Research Trainee for February is Stephanie Bowles, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow working in the Stress Neurobiology Program. Dr. Bowles earned her PhD in molecular genetics and biochemistry from Georgia State University. In this Q&A, she discusses her research, her experiences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, her interests outside of the lab, and her reflections on Black History Month.
What are some research projects you’re currently working on?
My work aims to understand the neural substrates and circuits that regulate an adaptive metabolic response, starting from the perspective of brown adipose tissue (BAT). Adipose tissue is key in the development of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity. White adipose tissue primarily stores excess energy; however, BAT has the unique capacity for adaptive thermogenesis and energy expenditure that increases metabolic heat production and has the potential to mitigate metabolic disease.
As a postdoc in the Stress Neurobiology Program, led by Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, I contribute to understanding the role of individual and sex differences in the effects of repeated chronic psychological stress exposure. One of my projects addresses the current gap in knowledge about the role of stress in modulating BAT function. Studies have shown that psychological stress induces an increase in BAT function.
Previous work from Dr. Bhatnagar’s lab demonstrated that orexin, a neuropeptide that regulates arousal and appetite, acting in the posterior paraventricular thalamic nucleus (pPVT) also regulates behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to repeated stress. Findings showed orexin 1 receptors (OX1R), which are known to play a role in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle, feeding, and emotions, mediated these effects. My overarching goal is to build on this work and determine how orexinergic signaling in the pPVT regulates stress-induced BAT thermogenesis in males and females.
In a separate project, I am exploring a different method of BAT stimulation to investigate potential sex differences in BAT function in response to morphine administration. While this work is still in the preliminary stages, I have generated some exciting preliminary data and am optimistic about future studies.
What are some of the most salient training experiences you’ve had at CHOP thus far?
One thing I love about CHOP is the tangible resources available for career development, pioneered through the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs (ATOP). Two programs that I participated in are the Career Mentoring Program and the Advanced Career Exploration Fellowship. Through this fellowship, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to speak with executive leaders in research administration and collaborated with a diverse group of individuals from research project management and strategy integration. Additionally, I managed projects that aimed to educate members of CHOP’s community about best practices and methodologies that are useful in managing simple and complex projects, through an educational webinar series.
I enjoyed mentoring students in the CHOP Research Internship for Scholars and Emerging Scientists program. I loved being a part of a program that aims to build confidence in young high school students and provides the tools needed to progress in the field of science. This program also allocated a space for authenticity from both the mentors and mentees to discuss burgeoning issues such as imposter syndrome and unconscious bias.
Aside from research, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishments outside of research revolve around playing my violin. I received a scholarship to play in the chamber orchestra at Hampton University, played in the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra, and I have participated in many other charity events throughout the years.
What do you do for fun when you’re not in the lab?
I moved to Philadelphia during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. During that time, I would think of new, fun, and creative activities for my son. One of our favorite pastimes is exploring Philadelphia and finding new parks. My son also loves to cook, so I find fun and creative dishes we can make together.
What do you hope people take away from Black History Month?
This is a time where we reflect and honor the many fierce, bold, and brave African American men and women who drove change, strived to make a long-lasting impact on society, and paved the way for future generations to thrive. Black History Month is a time to celebrate the many talented Black innovators who spearheaded groundbreaking discoveries and pioneered programs that have had a positive effect on society.