Q & A with Jennetta Hammond, Ph.D.
Jennetta Hammond, Ph.D., joined the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience as an assistant professor in Neurology and Neuroscience in July 2021. She received her B.S. in Zoology from Brigham Young University and went on to complete her Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan. She first came to the University of Rochester as a post-doctoral trainee in 2012 and was hired as a research assistant professor of Neurology in 2018. Her research aims to understand interactions between the nervous system and the immune system that impact brain development or contribute to various autoimmune disorders.
Tell us a little bit about your research?
My lab is interested in learning how immune pathways, such as complement, play a role in normal and abnormal brain development. We have begun characterizing some novel, complement regulators that are expressed by neurons. These complement inhibitors may serve as protective factors during brain development when complement is engaged to clear away excess neuronal connections. In neurodevelopmental disorders, this pruning event may be poorly controlled leading to over – or under – pruning that could contribute to the disorders. We are also investigating whether these complement inhibitors have a protective role against excessive complement activity and direct immune attacks on the adult brain.
You were recently rewarded an R01 with a focus on autism research. How will this fit into your research?
My R01 aims to understand the function of the Sez6 gene family, whose three members have genetic links to multiple neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, including autism. The grant is based on the hypothesis that Sez6 proteins normally put the brakes on complement-mediated synaptic pruning in order to facilitate correct connectivity in the brain. Disruptions in this process may contribute to the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. This work actually began in 2018 when I was granted a $47,000 Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation pilot award. That turned into an R21 from the NIH, which lead to this R01.
What brought you to the University of Rochester?
My career path has been somewhat atypical compared to most faculty. After I completed my Ph.D., I took four years off from research to raise my two young children. When my husband’s first faculty job brought us to Rochester, I was ready to start doing research full-time again and I obtained a post-doctoral position in the lab of Harris Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D. Once I was back at the bench, I found really supportive people and then funding for my projects. I think it is important for a robust and diverse workforce that we support families and continue to be open to different career paths.
Do you have any advice?
Stay focused on your big goals and just keep working. In my experience, working in basic research is like being on a slow moving roller coaster. It is easy to get discouraged during the slow and uncertain times, but hard work, good ideas, and smart decisions along the way usually yield productive results in the end. I think it is exciting to be the one asking questions about how the brain is built and working to extend our knowledge bit by bit into the unknown.