While often hidden in the shadow of the Psychology building, the MSBII building on campus is home to some innovative and groundbreaking research in neuroscience. In her lipid neuroscience lab, Dr. Bradshaw investigates the function and regulation of cannabis receptors in the brain.
Her lab has worked on a project investigating lipidomics for five years. The field of lipidomics involves the biological endocannabinoid system, revolving around chemical signaling to the brain via neurotransmitters. In order to understand how drugs like cannabinoids interact with the brain, Bradshaw began studying the biochemistry behind lipid signals and receptors, as well as the myriad of conjugated acids.
Lipid signaling, in simple and broad terms, refers to a lipid messenger binding to a target protein, such as a receptor. This system of interactions often leads to a cellular response that aims to be regulated through this system of interactions. Lipid signaling is especially important in neuroscience due to its multifaceted role in neural plasticity, brain repair, and neuroprotection.
One of Dr. Bradshaw’s key methods is examining cultures made from various organisms by dissecting their brains, extracting lipids, and purifying them to isolate endocannabinoids. She also measures anandamide, also known as the “bliss molecule,” using mass spectrometry. She said her research efforts aim to help clinical scientists determine the most effective combination of CBD and THC, two of the cannabinoids found in marijuana, for medicinal use.
Bradshaw said her experiences as a trained neuropharmacologist and a researcher have led her to make major breakthroughs in the mechanisms and effects of various endocannabinoids with her colleagues through her various lipid signaling projects.
In Bradshaw’s experience, there are far more students interested in research than there are labs available. She encourages students to seek research opportunities but to also maintain professionalism while explaining why they are a good candidate for their project of interest. Committing enough time to the lab each week is also key in learning sound research practices, she said.
Her research is relevant because recreational use of cannabinoids is a reality on college campuses. It joins the conversation about legalizing medicinal cannabis and the implications of the substance on humans.