Mallinckrodt Grant to Summer Thyme will fund study of brain development in zebrafish

This avenue of basic research will aid understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders in humans.

Thyme2Summer Thyme, Ph.D.Summer Thyme, Ph.D., a second-year assistant professor of neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will seek to better understand neurodevelopmental disorders in humans by studying zebrafish, which share more than 70 percent of their genes with humans. 

This research is funded by a newly awarded Mallinckrodt Grant to Thyme; the grant provides $60,000 a year for three years. She is UAB’s first recipient of this prestigious fellowship. Only six to eight of these coveted grants are awarded each year by the St. Louis-based Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Foundation, a private foundation that funds basic biomedical research. The Mallinckrodt Foundation supports early stage investigators engaged in biomedical research that has the potential to significantly advance the understanding, diagnosis or treatment of disease.  

This spring, Thyme also was awarded a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in Neuroscience. Only 11 to 14 of these fellowships for cutting-edge investigations are awarded each year. 

Zebrafish are inch-long, minnow-like fish with five blue stripes. Their genome has been completely sequenced, and their brains are transparent and have architecture and cell types similar to those of mammals. This transparency enables visualization of brain development and neural activity.

Thyme will study alternative splicing in zebrafish that may be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders and is also developing drug-screening approaches to identify potential therapeutics.  

“Current treatments for neurodevelopmental disorders are inadequate,” Thyme said. “It is very difficult to develop effective therapies without understanding a disease’s biological origins.”

Thyme earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry at Scripps College. She completed her Ph.D. studying protein engineering at the University of Washington, where she was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. At Harvard University, Thyme was a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Research Fellow and a National Institutes of Mental Health K99 recipient in Alexander Schier’s laboratory, establishing the expertise with zebrafish that has laid the groundwork for her research at UAB. With Schier, she generated over a hundred zebrafish mutants for schizophrenia-associated genes and assessed their brain activity, brain structure and behavior. 

“I am honored to receive a Mallinckrodt Grant,” Thyme said, “and I am thankful for the supportive environment of UAB and the Department of Neurobiology that helped make this possible.”