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Laura Ornelas, PhD, received a prestigious National Institutes of Health award under the Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC) program – an effort to enhance diversity within the academic biomedical research workforce.

Laura Ornelas, PhD, postdoctoral research associate at the UNC School of Medicine, has been selected as a MOSAIC fellow, under the prestigious Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC) program at the National Institutes of Health. This program is part of NIH’s efforts to enhance diversity within the academic biomedical research workforce, and to facilitate the transition of promising postdoctoral researchers from diverse backgrounds into independent, tenure-track or equivalent research-intensive faculty positions. It has two components: an institutionally-focused research education cooperative agreement (UE5) and an individual postdoctoral career transition award (K99/R00) to enhance diversity.

Ornelas conducts research in the lab of Joyce Besheer, PhD, professor of psychiatry and member of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the UNC School of Medicine. This two-year fellowship will support research on corticolimbic circuitry in adaptive stress coping behavior and subsequent alcohol drinking. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are highly comorbid, and individual differences in response to stress suggest resilient and susceptible populations, which may be important for understanding this high comorbidity. Further, not only are women twice as likely as men to suffer from PTSD, but some individuals may be more susceptible or resilient in adapting to stressful events. Ornelas plans to examine neural circuitry and mechanisms that drive adaptive versus maladaptive coping strategies during stress and the relation to subsequent alcohol drinking.

Her research will also investigate specific brain mechanisms that mediate sex differences in response to stress, and how men and women cope in response to stress, responses such as alcohol consumption. Through understanding the mechanisms that underlie how individuals cope with stress and alcohol drinking, Ornelas hopes her research will help provide more effective and sex-specific clinical prevention and treatment strategies for individuals with PTSD and comorbid alcohol use.

Funded through the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ornelas will receive about $100,000 per year during her two-year fellowship. The MOSAIC K99/R00 program will provide independent NIH research support before and after this transition to help awardees launch successful, independent research careers.