Kim Phillips headshot
Curious to the Core
Phillips’ research nets prestigious designation with national research center

Psychology professor Kimberley Phillips has been appointed a core scientist with the Southwest National Primate Research Center, one of seven national centers that conduct research to help fights diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to Zika worldwide.

Phillips’ designation places her in the Southwest NPRC’s Regenerative Medicine and Aging unit, where she will continue her ongoing research into motor learning and rehabilitation therapy, multiple sclerosis, and stress activation. Phillips says being a core scientist also means she’ll be “involved in vision and planning” for the center.

“This is an honor to be appointed a core scientist,” Phillips says. “I’m looking forward to increasing my research activities at the center and collaborating with other scientists in the Regenerative Medicine and Aging unit.”

Phillips’s work focuses on non-human primate models, which allows her and other scientists at the center to better understand human health, in turn.

Her three ongoing projects include:

First, examining structural and functional brain changes associated with motor learning.

“This really is discovery-based research to understand how the brain changes when you learn new, complex tasks, and repeatedly engage in those complex tasks,” Phillips says. “The idea of this is what underlies rehabilitation therapy. Surprisingly, there’s been very little true research on what’s happening in the brain with rehabilitation therapy.”

Second, understanding the effects of exercise on disease progression and cognition in a marmoset model of multiple sclerosis.

“Maybe 5-10 percent of individuals that have MS also have cognitive dysfunction,” Phillips says. “This can vary, and it tends to progress as the disease progresses. So we are, in the animal model, identifying that cognitive dysfunction, and then (we are) looking at our therapeutic intervention of exercise to see if exercise affects the disease. While exercise is extremely beneficial for healthy brains and healthy brain aging, we’re really trying to understand is in a diseased brain, what are the effects of exercise?”

Third, hair cortisol concentration as a cumulative measure of long-term hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation.

“Basically, this is a way to non-invasively measure long-term stress activation,” Phillips says. “Since hair grows a certain amount each month, about a centimeter, that centimeter would be representing that sort of picture (over that timeframe) of HPA axis activation during that previous month.”

For more information on Phillips’ research, as well as the Southwest NPRC’s mission, visit the center’s Regenerative Medicine and Aging unit page.

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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