Faculty Profile

What’s on your MiND, Dr. Foster?

AUTHOR: Shawna Thompson

Taking time out of her busy schedule, Dr. Jane Foster, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, sat down with me for an interview.

Q. What initially drew you to neuroscience? Why did you choose this field?

I don’t think we really choose our fields; I think they choose us. My initial research experience was in a neurochemistry lab at the University of Western Ontario with Michael Owen, where I studied catecholamine levels using HPLC initially in bee brains, but eventually in cockroach brains. That was the starting point.  


Q. Why did you choose to continue from that point?

Since grade 6, I always had planned to be a PhD scientist, so when I looked into graduate work and I applied to Queen’s, a new investigator at the time, Mel Robertson, pulled my application. He was also doing invertebrate neuroscience, so that got me into graduate studies in neuroscience.


Q.  What is currently the focus of your lab’s research?

We’re interested in how the body influences brain function, and how it might influence risk of mental health disorders, particularly anxiety and depression. We examine specifically how immune signaling and microbiota-to-brain signaling influence development of those systems.


Q.  As a supervisor in the MiNDS program, what qualities do you look for when choosing students to work with? 

I look for someone with an interest in the topic, some practical lab experience, initiative, and someone who knows something about our research.


Q. What can students gain from having you as their supervisor?

Students in my lab will learn good experimental design, and to do things correctly. They will have a broad picture of the field, and access to interesting collaborative opportunities.


Q.  What is new and exciting in your field of research?

Research directly linking specific microbiota to behaviour or a better understanding of how peripheral immunophenotype might be important to brain development that results in changes in behaviour. What’s exciting in the microbiome field is how effective probiotics are working in the anxiety and emotional side of things. This work is demonstrated in animal studies but seems to be effective in people—mostly healthy people to date—so expanding that into clinical populations is going to be of interest.


What’s needed in the field in the next decade is the concept of taking personalized medicine a step farther by coming up with biomarkers that will allow us to stratify individuals into subtypes so that we have better targets for the development of therapies and current treatments.


Q. Which research are you most impressed by, and why?

The most impressive research is research that considers how integrated the system is. In particular, one of the things that’s emerging is this idea of sex differences, and where these sex differences actually have an effect, and during which periods of development might those be important.


Q. How have you seen the field change since you’ve been in neuroscience?

We’re working in an area that didn’t exist when I began in neuroscience, but particularly the expansion of cross- and multi-disciplinary research and the engagement of reverse translational approaches.


Q. What are the words of wisdom you’d give to a new graduate student?

Take ownership of your project, meaning that you should be the best informed on the topic and dig deep in the literature. What happens is that people don’t read enough. Read broadly, and read the previous research from your lab.