Fragile X Syndrome. The syndrome causes an increase in a protein in the brain linked to learning and cognition.
“It just became like an obsession for me,” said MariVi Tejada-Simon, assistant professor in the college of pharmacy. She studies how the brain learns and creates memories. Her examination of a protein called RAC1 in Fragile X looks at balancing the brain’s levels of that protein.
“We’re not going to cure autism and mental retardation fully, but we are going to reduce the intellectual disability that those kids have and give them a better quality of life.”
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Fraxa Research Foundation, National Fragile X Foundation and UH, her research considers genetic and pharmacological approaches to achieving that balance.
“Our idea is if it’s elevated in the brain and it’s the cause of this malformation in the neurons, what will happen if we balance the level of the protein to a normal level,” she said. “If you put the levels to a normal baseline, we are hoping that we can revert those deficiencies.
Tejada-Simon uses her research as an opportunity to mentor future scientists. Her efforts have earned her the inaugural UH Early Faculty Award for Mentoring Undergraduate Research.
“There are a lot of students who are brilliant, not only in academics; they have a brilliant head for research,” she said. “If you don’t offer them an opportunity, they won’t know they can do something like this.”
Pharmacy research is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.