Skip to main content

Young Investigator: Q&A with Jadwiga Bilchak

The Young Investigator Award (YIA) provides two-year salary support to early career NF researchers to help them get established as independent NF investigators. Since its inception, several YIAs have made groundbreaking research findings and notable publications through this program, and many have advanced to become leaders in the NF research and clinical communities.

We’re pleased to introduce some of these researchers from the latest class of awardeesJadwiga Bilchak (Kayser Lab, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania) shares how her background in electrophysiology is informing her approach to creating new genetic and imaging techniques for NF1, as well as a personal connection to the community.  

A woman sitting in front of a microscope.What are you hoping to learn from this project?

Using the Drosophila model, we aim to understand how NF1 mutation affects sensory neuron excitability and circuit dynamics, and how peripheral sensory disturbances are transformed in the brain to shape social behavior.

What are your long-term research goals?

I would like to use my background in electrophysiology and the knowledge I’m currently gaining in genetic and imaging techniques to investigate changes in circuit dynamics that occur in NF1 and other neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically in relation to sensorimotor deficits.

Tell us about life in a research lab. What’s a typical day look like?

What I love about my job is that each day can be different. Some days I spend taking care of my flies and preparing for future experiments, while others I perform challenging surgeries or learn new techniques from my coworkers; some days I’m meeting new people and discussing ideas, and other days I’m glued to my computer screen analyzing data.

What brought you to the NF research field?

I first met my mentor at a post-doctoral recruitment event. I was still immersed in my PhD and had not expected to find a post-doctoral mentor so quickly, but when he described his recent publication on the Drosophila model of NF1, my mind began racing with possibilities. Although the topic was far removed from what I’d studied previously, I felt that my background in neuronal physiology could dovetail with the sophisticated genetic tools available in Drosophila, and that my mentor could guide me to make valuable contributions to the NF field.

What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?

Lab work can occasionally be frustrating, so I love to bring my bow to the local range after work and blow off some steam with archery.

What does it mean to you to receive this funding from CTF?

Shortly after starting my postdoc, I met with the mother of my late best friend for dinner. I told her about my new project studying NF1, and to my surprise, she knew more about NF1 than I did. She told me that, although they never confirmed with genetic testing, the doctors believed that my best friend had NF1. This helped me put my work in perspective, and when I was awarded funding from the CTF, I felt a great sense of gratitude. I’m grateful that the CTF sees value in the basic research I do and acknowledges its potential, and although I was too late to help my best friend, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to help others.

Learn more about our latest investments in young investigors; click here for NF1 projects and click here for SWN projects (including NF2-related schwannomatosis). Click here to learn more about funding opportunities, including the Young Investigator Awards, from the Children’s Tumor Foundation.