We’re excited to announce that neonatologist, Elena Minakova, recently joined Barnes Jewish Hospital as a physician, and will be working with the Dougherty lab during months off on developmental-behavioral-genetic research!

Elena’s work will be taking two main directions. The first relates to studying the consequences of in utero opioid exposure on mouse development and behavior, and whether these effects are sustained into adulthood. Sadly, Elena’s work as a neonatologist frequently involves caring for newborns experiencing “deprivation syndrome” — withdrawal from opioids the mother was taking while in utero. As of 2014, the NIH estimates that 1 in every 154 infants was born experiencing this condition–a number which is undoubtedly on the rise alongside the parent addiction. Understanding the consequences of this on longitudinal behavior and development, she and we hope, will help spur interventions or treatments to prevent long-term effects from opioid exposure in utero–which at 2014 levels, may be impacting over 1 million children born between 2014 and 2019.

Elena’s other work will be continued investigation of melanotan-II, an agonist of the MC4R protein, a melanocortin receptor. Activation of MC4R results in increased release of the pro-social neurotransmitter, oxytocin; elevating oxytocin is being explored throughout the autism research community as a potential avenue of symptom treatment. Elena recently published on the efficacy of this drug in reducing autism-like behaviors in male mice in a maternal-immune-system driven model of autism; she will continue working on demonstrating the behavioral effects of this drug in mouse autism models in her intermittent time with the Dougherty lab.

We’re excited to welcome Elena aboard and look forward to the clinical insights and scientific skills she will bring to the lab!