Second UVic Aspiration 2030 post-doctoral fellow joins DMS

The Division of Medical Sciences would like to welcome Dr. Adriano Chaves (pictured left; Tremblay Lab), the division’s second UVic Aspiration 2030 post-doctoral fellow. 

imageDuring his two-year fellowship, Adriano will research new approaches to treat depression using microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells. Specifically, he will investigate how to stimulate microglia into remodeling the brain’s extracellular matrix, a complex gel-like molecular network that surrounds cells in the central nervous system. This remodeling is expected to promote brain plasticity, especially after chronic stress conditions. Plasticity describes the fundamental ability of the brain to adapt to new internal and external stimuli through functional and structural changes, such as new synapse formation or elimination. Impairment of brain plasticity is a common biological hallmark of chronic stress, a major risk factor for depression, and the restoration of these changes is critical for the efficacy of many antidepressants.

“Microglia has a critical role in the scenario I will investigate in my research, if and how they could be the key to provide a novel avenue to treat depression,” says Adriano. “This would bring substantial benefits for patients and society overall considering the serious limitations of the current oral antidepressants.”

Adriano’s post-doctoral fellowship is part of Aspiration 2030, UVic’s Research and Creative Works Strategy. The strategy identifies the university’s research aspirations, actions, and outcomes, with the commitment to create a better world through research, curiosity, engagement, and innovation. The fellowships are awarded to new outstanding post-doctoral fellows to conduct cutting-edge research at UVic. Besides critical salary support, this initiative provides research training and recognition that post-doctoral fellows are critical members of the research community and fundamental players in advancing research and discoveries in all impact areas. The awards also consider Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) aspects and how a candidate would implement them in their research, career track, leadership, and discipline.

Adriano has a deep commitment to research excellence, curiosity, and EDI advances. He obtained his medical degree at the Federal University of Ceará in Brazil, followed by his master’s and PhD in neuropsychopharmacology at the same institution. He has published 51 peer-reviewed papers, which have been cited 1020 times, and has an h-index of 18 and i10-index of 24 (Google Scholar). Adriano is also a non-binary gender person and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. He deeply advocates for policies and practical actions to build a more inclusive and diverse environment in science for equity-deserving groups, especially those who face discrimination based on gender and sex.

Adriano is the second UVic Aspiration post-doctoral fellow to join the Division. Dr. Crystal Acosta (pictured right; Christie Lab) began her work on understanding how maternal alcohol and/or cannabis consumption affects prenatal brain development in 2022. She is particularly interested in the effects on the hippocampus, which is the brain region responsible for learning and memory processes, and investigating sex-specific differences in the offspring. “Cannabis and alcohol co-use during pregnancy is a growing health concern, so this work is timely,” she says.

imageTo gain a better understanding of the neurodevelopmental deficits cannabis and/or alcohol produce in the male and female offspring brain, Crystal is employing different behavioural tests (e.g., those for learning, memory, and anxiety/depression) throughout development and measuring neurogenesis (i.e., the ability to produce new neurons). She is also using electrophysiological methods to determine if these changes are associated with alterations in synaptic physiology and plasticity in the hippocampus. 

Aside from bridging knowledge gaps with her work, Crystal is also focused reducing the stigma associated with substance use. “There is real value in destigmatizing the scientific messaging when sharing or presenting this research. It is important to us that this work promotes prenatal cannabis/alcohol use prevention in a manner that is evidence-based and supports awareness and stigma reduction,” she says. “Stigma plays a crucial role in shaping the experiences of people who are affected by substance use—a primary example are individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.”

Crystal is also advancing EDI outside of her research. She regularly mentors other women in science, and she fosters early curiosity in neuroscience as the coordinator of the Victoria Brain Bee, an annual brain facts competition for high school students.

“The Aspiration 2030 fellowship has without a doubt been a fantastic opportunity,” Crystal says. “It has elevated my work by facilitating many aspects of my training, and this has helped diversify my skills and expand my areas of expertise.”

Crystal earned her bachelor’s in microbiology, master’s in pharmaceutical sciences, and PhD in pharmacology and therapeutics from the University of Manitoba. She conducted her doctoral research at the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine and St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre, where she studied blood vessels in the brain during cardiovascular disease.