A line of young neuroscientists from different backgrounds follow their scientific roots in the "fear laboratory" in Puerto Rico that the National Institutes of Health support it for two decades. Crucially for fear of extinction, the lab has published 80 papers – some of Puerto Rico's first journals – which generate more than 2,000 citations per year. Out of 130 young people trained in the laboratory, 90 per cent are from Puerto Rico and Latin America, and half are women.
"Like most laboratories, the key stimulates intellectual development through magazine clubs, laboratory meetings, weekly one-on-one and a philosophy of scientific retreats," said the director of the founding of the laboratory, Dr. Gregory Quirk. "Completely right, these four activities develop skills for logic, communication and intellectual curiosity among listeners, and also build group cohesion."
After completing a post-doctoral scholarship at the University of New York, New York, under the well-known fears researcher Joseph LeDux, Dr. Quirk launched the laboratory in 1997 at today's University of Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico. A decade later, she moved to her current location at the University of Puerto Rico University of Medicine at San Juan, adding several studies on human and non-human primacy.
Quirk gives advice on his approach to fostering discovery and "out of the beaten path" discovery in an article published on January 30, 2018 in the Journal of Neuroscience. It marks nearly two decades of the first publication of the lab in that newspaper, which showed that the ventral medial prefrontal cortex is necessary for the consolidation of memory for extinction (loss of fear) in rodents.
Shortly thereafter, the group reported the news when reporting in Nature that they discovered the equivalent brain of "all-clear" signals in the crust of the inflammatory crust, that when mimicked by electrical stimulation, they suppressed the conditioned fear in rats. Since then, the lab has been at the forefront of translation studies that extend the insights from experimental experiments to teach mental disorders.
For example, in 2015, they reported in Nature a discovery of a possible importance for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – that an old memory of fear was recalled with a separate brain path from the one initially used to recall when it was fresh.
"Recently, my lab explored circuits of active avoidance, obsessive-compulsive disorder and frustration using deep brain stimulation, optogenesis and techniques of CRISPR-Cas9," Kirk added.
He supports the support of the National Institute for Mental Health of NIH (NIMH) as the key to the success of the laboratory. For example, the FIRST NIMH Award was renewed four times. The lab was also the first in Puerto Rico to receive a presidential prize for early career and Merit Award.
"Other grants" for the first time "for Puerto Rico were the P50 Contra center, the Independent Independent Award (K99-R00) for my postdoc and the R36 Dissertation Award for my graduates – all funded by NIMH," Quirk said.
Quirk's report includes comments from former trainees, whom he collected during a recent unification celebrating the lab's 20th anniversary. For example, "After a few years of JClubs, you're never again happy with average effort," said a former doctoral student for the club's compulsory lab clubs.
Weekly laboratory meetings started with water meditation and "praise" set a tone that encourages a culture of co-operation, said Quirk. Rotating presentations from the participants in the training ensure that everyone knows what each person / mind is thinking in the laboratory and can help.
"It was impressive when I found a member of Quirk Lab who presented a poster to another member without being part of the study: laboratory meetings turned every member into the defenders of other projects," a former student remarked.
Labor members are encouraged to overcome the tendencies to be socially polite and boldly to ask questions to each other, said Quirk. The same high standard is expected in written communication. A "six-eyes rule" dictates that manuscripts are criticized by three external readers before they are submitted to a diary.
"You're writing about a brain that's not yours," he stressed.
The idea of having what Quirk kindly calls "Time to Face" – individual one-on-one meetings – comes from students. "This was a firm deadline to present my data and to remind Greg of the importance of my project," said a current post-doctor.
For three days each winter, the laboratory uses university funds to lead the mountains for Philosophy of Science. "Instead of discussing the data, the idea of retreat is to examine philosophical questions that do not define us as scientists and that emphasize our approach to scientific issues," explains Quirk.
"The withdrawal gave me the confidence to rely on other people in the laboratory," said the undergraduate. Each city student or post-doctor mentors from two to four students.
At a recent meeting of the Neuroscience Association of the Neuroscience Association, NIMH Director Joshua A Gordon, PhD, writes: "Dr. Quirk is a longtime scholar of NIM who was a supportive and effective mentor, trained numerous undergraduates and postgraduate students who have gone through a career in neuroscience. "