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Student Profile in GABA-A Receptors

Dagimhiwat Legesse

Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program

Mentor: Ryan Hibbs, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Cell Molecular Biology
Undergraduate Institution: San Francisco State University
Hometown: Oakland, Calif.

Awards/Fellowships: As an undergraduate student I received the National Science Foundation (NSF) California State University – The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) fellowship. As a Masters student, I received the National Institute of Health (NIH) MS-PhD BRIDGE. I was nominated and received the Genentech Dissertation Fellowship. As a second-year graduate student at UT Southwestern, I received the NIH R01 Diversity Supplement.

Dagimhiwat Legesse

How did you become interested in science and/or research?

As a kid, I spent hours reading and watching anything related to science but, unfortunately, I was not well informed of the career options available in science. I, therefore, started as a political science major in college with hopes of going to law school. I soon realized my true passion for science and, more specifically, research, during an upper division biology laboratory class. The professor discussed the similarities between the experiments we were working on and the type of research his lab was conducting. Shortly after the course, I joined his research lab; this experience helped solidify my scientific career path.

Please describe your research.

Ryan Hibbs, Ph.D., Dagimhiwat Legesse's mentor
Ryan Hibbs, Ph.D., Dagimhiwat Legesse's mentor.

GABA-A receptors are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that mediate fast inhibitory neurotransmission in the brain. These receptors are major drug targets for epilepsy, mental illness, and anesthesia. I use diverse approaches to study the structure and function of GABA-A receptors. I combine high-resolution cryo-EM-based structural information with electrophysiology and pharmacology to understand how the receptors are built and how they are modulated by important drug classes.

Why did you choose UT Southwestern?

I first learned about UTSW from the Associate Dean, Nancy Street, during a recruiting event at my undergraduate institution. I later got a chance to talk with Nancy Street and Professor Yuh Min Chook while attending a SACNAS conference. They discussed the graduate program and the type of support UTSW provides for their graduate students. After my interview, I was drawn not only to the high-caliber scientific research, but also the fantastic support system the school offers.

What do you think makes the Molecular Biophysics Program one of the best?

I think the biophysics program at UTSW has a rigorous and challenging curriculum while consistently providing exceptional support for graduate students. The program also offers numerous opportunities for students to get helpful feedback from the facility during annual retreats and works-in-progress presentations.

– Dagimhiwat Legesse, Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program

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