Dawn Cornelison is on a mission to counteract the effects of aging, the effects of muscular dystrophy, and other neuromuscular diseases. The assistant professor of Biological Sciences must first find answers to the crucial questions regarding the robust nature of muscle regeneration.
Cornelison’s research examines muscle stem cells in order to uncover the mechanics behind muscle regeneration. Based on her findings, she hopes that other scientists can potentially devise cures for neuromuscular diseases such as dystrophy.
Cornelison mainly conducts research on mice, though her ultimate goal is to understand muscle stem cell behavior in humans. Mice serve as a good model for satellite cell activity because they are mammals with muscles and genes similar to humans.
Cornelison initially started college as a chemistry major, but after taking a biology course she realized her passion was for natural science. Soon afterward, she realized she was hooked on lab work. “I remember the feeling whenever I did an experiment,” she recalls, “and realize that I now know something that no one else in the world knows, and I get to go tell them about it.”
When doing research, Cornelison says, “you have to have a pretty high tolerance for failure bordering on extreme stubbornness… You’ve got to be able to live with not getting things to work all the time.” All of her research is funded by external grants, which means she has to secure external funding in order to pay her fellow researchers, house the lab’s mice, or buy materials. Currently, Cornelison is receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Although Cornelison doesn’t want her research to come to an end anytime soon, she is aiming at discovering information that will help other scientists formulate cures. And even though she almost quit graduate school to become a doctor, Cornelison says she “wouldn’t be doing anything else, regardless of whatever challenges might come up.”