Jennifer Jia Gates Cambridge

Jennifer Jia ’16 has been awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to complete her advanced degree at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship aims to identify and select applicants who are academically outstanding and are likely to be transformative leaders in their fields.

Jia, who was a neuroscience major and chemistry minor at Pomona, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical neurosciences. Currently, she is enrolled at Downing College, Cambridge, for a master of philosophy in medical sciences.

Jia's ongoing project looks at the remyelination of the optic nerve and how this can functionally recover eyesight during glaucoma, an eye disease that causes permanent blindness. Myelination is an insulation process by which oligodendrocytes, a type of glial cell that exist in the central nervous system, wrap fatty membranes around axons (nerve fibers) to form protective myelin sheaths. This is not only important for proper neural functioning, but also cognitive development and learning.

While much current regeneration work focuses on the rehabilitation of neurons, Jia's project will look at the regeneration of the central nervous system by monitoring the role of glia (the most abundant stem cells in the adult central nervous system). In her Ph.D., Jia hopes to profile neural-glial communication in health and disease and understand the role of myelination in regaining function after neural damage.

Jia notes her undergraduate work with Pomona College Professor of Biology Jonathan Moore, Professor of Neuroscience and Biology Karl Johnson, and Neuroscience Professor Karen Parfitt as all pivotal in her academic career. From them she learned the basics of science and research techniques and was challenged to venture into interdisciplinary fields to tackle research questions. She says the professors are what make Pomona an unforgettable place.

“Their doors are always open for discussions because they are never too busy for one more question,” says Jia.

While a Pomona student, funded by the 5C Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Jia did summer research on the evolutionary origins of adaptive immunity in lampreys, a collaboration between Pomona and Caltech. The summer before her senior year she worked at Harvard Medical School and following graduation she was a scholar with the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunity Program, mapping the pain circuitry in the spinal cord, specifically in the anterolateral tract.

Jia, who was born in China and calls State College, Pa. home, plans to become a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist.