Karen Mruk


Click on Karen's picture to visit her lab site.

1. Who is your current research mentor/PI?

James Chen - Stanford University

2. What is your research focus?

I am fascinated by the CNS and how zebrafish are able to restore their ability to swim after spinal cord injury.  I am especially interested in understanding how the “electrical network” governs this process.

3. What current project(s) are you working on?

I recently developed an optogenetic approach to induce neural ablation. We’re now partnering with Will Talbot’s lab to use this technology as a means to induce focal demyelination.  It could be a powerful model for demyelinating diseases.

4. How long have you been working with zebrafish?

Since the start of my postdoc – about 4 years

5. What prompted you to take up research using the zebrafish model?

In graduate school, I took a course called Basis of Brain disease.  I remember how easy it appeared to do genetic experiments in fish compared to mammalian models.  Once I read that their CNS could regenerate, I was convinced I wanted to use zebrafish to study CNS injury.

Getting to know you better…

6. Where were you born/where did you grow up?

Born and raised in Roselle Park, NJ. It’s a one-square mile town, if you’ve heard of it, I’d be surprised!

7. When did you realize you wanted to be a scientist?

Honestly, my fascination with science began watching the Space Shuttle Challenger on TV.  At age 5, I was sure I was going to be an astronaut.  I didn’t really develop a true appreciation for biology until graduate school.

8. Where did you do your undergraduate studies?

I went to Drew University in Madison, NJ.  Drew has this great career center and I was fortunate enough to do an internship with L’Oreal in Clark, NJ for two summers.  I also did independent research at Drew for my honors thesis in biochemistry.  My project was on understanding how overexpression of a kinase contributes to apoptosis in NG108-15 cells.

9. Where did you do your graduate work?

University of Massachusetts Medical School - Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology.

10. What other jobs have you had?

In high school, I delivered newspapers.  In college, I worked in the  department store Lord&Taylor. After college, I was a junior chemist at Revlon.  I worked in the haircare and haircolor department.

Science and Careers…

11. Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career.

Bill will hate that I share this story, but when I was a graduate student, I used Xenopus oocytes for my electrical recordings.  And for 3 (very-long) years, the oocytes had some mysterious problem that caused them to be unusable.  During this time, I seriously considered leaving graduate school because it was nearly impossible to do any experiments. Luckily, there is an amazing vet at UMass, Denice O’Connell, who worked with us to find the source–multi-drug resistant bacteria.  This was a turning point for me because: 1) I was able to continue my thesis research, 2) it was a true lesson in how to make lemonade as we later published our findings, and 3) I decided I would never work with Xenopus oocytes again.  In fact, when the lab next door complains about the quality of their Xenopus oocytes, I just chuckle to myself.

12. What would you like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years? (science careers or other)

Scientifically, I would love to be tenured at a research university and studying the role the immune system plays in CNS plasticity.  Personally, I hope to be geographically closer to my family.  I'd also like to get back to competitive bowling.  

13. Other than scientist – what career would you like to attempt?


14. If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why?

I’d love to see Otto Loewi’s experiment where he found that nerves can release chemicals to regulate their effector organ (in his experiment the heart).

Outside of work…

15. What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab?

I like being active – hiking, playing softball, bowling on the East Coast/bocce on the West Coast.

16.If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Hands down my grandmother’s meat sauce – I don’t even need pasta, just a spoon!

17. What are you reading right now (not including research papers)?

Haper’s Magazine - a friend gifted me a subscription years ago and I’m hooked.  

18. Name a favorite song or musical piece.

Just one?  I’m sorry but the best I can do is a single genre, classic rock.  Give me The Cure, Fleetwood Mac, and The Who anyday.

19. Favorite place you have lived or visited?

Whidbey Island, Washington

20. Provide a quote that speaks to you.

“somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known” ~ Sharon Begley

Below are images captured by the featured trainee......



 "Image of optically-induced neuronal-specific expression of the M2 toxin in zebrafish larvae."

Previously Featured Trainees

Karen Mruk

Pia Lundegaard

Abdalla Khairy Elbialy

Jose Pelliccia