Skyla M. Herod, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry, is one of the many faculty-mentors prevalent at Azusa Pacific. Lectures, research discussions, lab work, discipleship, BBQs, and cups of coffee define her style as a professor who seeks to prepare her students holistically. Her students leave APU with a strong academic foundation, equipped for graduate school and beyond.
Before Azusa Pacific, Skyla worked at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, Oregon, where she studied the brain mechanisms underlying the development of stress-sensitivity and susceptibility to stress-induced disorders, specifically stress-induced infertility in female monkeys.
At APU, she continues her work in the neuroendocrinology of the stress response in genetic mutant mice deficient in normal functioning of the serotonin system, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, cognition, and stress reactivity. Skyla examines the role of early life stress exposure and availability of various neurotransmitter systems in determining susceptibility to stress-induced disorders in adulthood.
Get to know Skyla a little better, including her love for science, faculty/student research at APU, and more.
When did your love for science begin?
I fell in love with neuroscience in high school, all because of one amazing teacher, Mrs. Caye Boone, who first taught me about the brain and behavior through experiments and experience, rather than just out of a textbook, and both challenged and cared for her students every day. I owe my career path in large part to her commitment to inspiring her students, and hope I can do the same for mine.
What are some of the research opportunities offered to undergraduate science students at APU?
APU offers a unique opportunity for science students to get involved in every aspect of hands-on research, side by side at the bench with their professors. Each of our professors usually mentors one to six students per semester as part of a Directed Research summer independent study course. In addition, students have the opportunity to participate in our Student2Scholar (S2S), research program, which is a 10-week intensive program of research in the professor’s area of expertise. Research students often present their original research at regional, national, and international conferences alongside experts in the field, and some even have the opportunity to publish their work in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
What are you hoping to find and learn from your study on adolescent stress (and the fetal brain development study)?
As a developmental neuroendocrinologist, I am interested in hormones and neurotransmitters affecting brain development, and study this in two important “critical windows”: prenatal and early adolescent development. In the prenatal study, we study a mutant genetic mouse line that produces low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is associated with many functions, but particularly in depression and anxiety. We are hoping to understand how the fetal brain is affected by low levels of maternal serotonin, similar to what is seen clinically in maternal depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy.
In collaboration with Dr. Alexandre Bonnin of USC’s Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, we are hoping to understand both fetal brain development and the role of the placenta in protecting or facilitating changes in the developing fetal brain. In the adolescent stress study, we use the same genetic mouse model to try and understand the interaction of low serotonin levels (which are associated with stress-related disorders) and exposure to psychosocial stress in early adolescence. Understanding how these two factors may work together to predispose an individual to be more reactive, both physiologically and behaviorally, to stress challenges in adulthood can lead to earlier and more effective interventions to treat stress-related disorders like anxiety, depression, reproductive dysfunction, and gastrointestinal disorders.
What are three suggestions you can give to a student who wants to study science at APU?
1. Learn how to study early on. 2. Don’t overcommit your schedule. 3. Go see your professor often for help or questions. Students sometimes can be intimidated to approach professors with questions or for help outside of class, but that’s one thing that makes APU professors different: we are actually here for our students, so take advantage of that!
Outside of the classroom and lab, what energizes/inspires you?
I love creating new adventures with my husband and three small children, finding new music, planning and organizing events both on and off campus, and traveling anywhere I can.