Andrea Gomez, a 2021 Rose Hill Innovator, is probing how our brains learn and change over time by studying how the compounds found in psychedelic mushrooms influence brain activity.
The human brain has an immense power to change; over our lifetimes we grow and learn and shift our beliefs and preferences about the world. We recover from trauma and develop new skills. With each transformation, our brains forge new connections.
Andrea Gomez, an assistant professor of molecular and cell biology and a faculty affiliate of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, wants to know how cells and molecules in the brain enable that flexibility and change— called brain plasticity. To understand this brain plasticity better, she’s studying the impact of psychedelic compounds, such as those found in psychedelic mushrooms, on mice. These compounds, which include psilocybin, offers a controlled way to boost brain plasticity, she says.
“These compounds profoundly change the way people feel and behave long after any exposure to the medicine,” says Gomez. “I think that understanding how psychedelics change the brain can give us a window into how we can manipulate the brain in other ways— including how to treat neurological diseases that impact learning and memory.”
Gomez, who was awarded a 2021 Rose Hill Innovator grant for the project, not only brings a curiosity about neuroscience to her research, but also a deep appreciation for the ancient roots of psilocybin. A Chicano and Laguna Pueblo Native, she thinks ancient knowledge on the drug’s medicinal use is important to integrate into even the most basic, molecular studies.
“I’m very motivated by ensuring that this indigenous knowledge is recognized and honored and has the same respect as western medical innovations,” she says.