Student Profiles

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

I joined the Physiology and Biophysics Department as a graduate student in September of 2009. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (San Jose), and did my undergraduate work in Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. I graduated from UCSD in 2002, and worked in the biotech industry (at Vertex Pharmaceuticals) for the following seven years. While I was working in industry, I also completed an MS degree in Cell and Molecular Biology at San Diego State University. I spent most of my time in industry working in teams developing treatments for diseases associated with ion channel function (or dysfunction). Most of industry’s R&D focus is in Development, though, and I found that I wanted to spend more of my career on Research- therefore, my decision to pursue a PhD.

When I was evaluating graduate programs, I was impressed with the breadth and caliber of the research going on in the PBio department. During my first year, I rotated through the labs of Sharona Gordon, Greg Horwitz, and Nicholas Poolos; I joined the Poolos lab at the end of my first year. The research in the Poolos lab is focused on the specific mechanisms leading from traumatic brain injury to temporal lobe epilepsy. There is a latent (epileptogenic) phase between brain insult and the onset of spontaneous seizures; during this phase, the ion channels responsible for regulating neuronal excitability in the hippocampus (hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated, or HCN, channels) are downregulated. The downregulation of HCN channels leads to neuronal hyperexcitability. However, the mechanisms leading to this downregulation are unknown- in the Poolos lab, we’re using electrophysiology, biochemistry, and animal behavior monitoring to investigate these mechanisms.

Another reason that I was drawn to the program was the quality of life in Seattle. I’m really into snowboarding, and there are a lot of great resorts around Seattle. In the summer, I get to spend a lot of time kayaking on Lake Union and Lake Washington, and there’s excellent camping and hiking nearby (Olympic National Park, San Juan Islands, Lake Chelan…). The snowboarding’s great around here, too. Seattle’s proximity to Vancouver and Portland makes for the nice occasional diversion. Did I mention the snowboarding?


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