Diana Wallin '03

Sara Jacobson

The human brain is three pounds of mystery that scientists have wanted to understand for decades.  Diana Wallin’s fascinating research as a neuroscientist focuses on the brain and its development from an early age.

The Minnehaha Days

Diana came to MA as a freshman.  She remembers Dr. DiNardo as her softball coach and chemistry teacher--he was one of her favorites and she still keeps in contact with him.   Dr. Whaley became a science mentor, and Mr. Enderton helped her in math AP classes and prepared her well for college classes.    She enjoyed the smaller class sizes and the willingness of the faculty to invest in her.  MA had a community feel with people who cared about each other.  “I felt very supported in that way.”  From an academic standpoint, she was able to take as many AP classes as she could, which prepared her for the rigor of college. “If I hadn’t had those AP classes, college would have been a shock.”

Pursuits in Neuroscience

Diana majored in physics at MIT in Boston. Working at a psychiatric research hospital in Boston helped her decide to pursue her graduate degree in neuroscience and in 2011 she started at the University of Minnesota. Her research looked at the effects of early life iron deficiency on brain development.  When babies are born preterm, their brains are still developing. With all their complications, the doctors often have to draw a lot of blood to perform tests, so these babies become anemic, which means they don’t have enough of the proteins that carry oxygen to their tissues.   This can result in a brain that doesn’t develop properly.  Diana researched the effects on the brain by taking blood from mice (until they were anemic) and examining how that affected their brain development.  While at the U, for several years she spoke to Minnehaha AP psychology students about her research, her degree, and how students could pursue graduate degrees. In November of 2017, Diana graduated with her Ph.D. in neuroscience. 

Research

Now, Diana is a post-doctoral fellow with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the hospital associated with Dartmouth College. Her research focus is the association of schizophrenia and substance use disorders. People with schizophrenia are more likely to develop a substance use disorder; up to 90% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia smoke and about half abuse alcohol or other drugs, rates about 3x that of the normal population.   They think this may have to do with problems in how the brain processes rewards. Diana is using a rat model and a powerful MRI scanner (shown in picture) to look at brain connectivity in these areas.

Diana is passionate about finding out how things in our early lives relate to long term outcomes.

She’d like to advance in academia, but may be interested in doing research for a pharmaceutical company or a bio-tech company.  “I’ve always liked trying to solve problems and figure out ‘why’ something is happening.”

To The Students

Diana’s advice to current students?  “Find what you like to do and talk to people who do that.  There are ways you can pursue the passions you are interested in and find a career in it.  If you’d like to get into research, ask lots of questions and be curious about things.”

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