Through the Summer Research Training Program for Underrepresented Medical Students, under-represented minority medical school students have the opportunity to participate in a 2 to 3 month summer research training experience working in the laboratory of a program preceptor. The Program for Training in Sleep, Circadian and Respiratory Neurobiology, at Harvard Medical School and Affiliated Institutions, strongly encourages underrepresented minority applicants to all of its programs.

Applications are currently being accepted for the summer of 2023. Admissions will be made on a rolling basis; hence, it is best to apply early.  Two letters of recommendation should be sent directly to the Program Coordinator, separate from the application. Applicants are encouraged to include a brief cover statement with their application, and to specify which of the projects noted below might hold particular interest for them. The Summer Underrepresented Medical Student application form, recommendation form, and personal data sheet to be included with your application packet are available on the forms and resources page.

Three important features of our Summer Research Training Program for Underrepresented Medical Students are:

  • The ability to offer expert training in physiology and pathophysiology in both human and experimental animal models of human sleep disorders. 
  • The ability to provide specific training in molecular and genetic approaches to the study of sleep and circadian rhythm disorders. 
  • A broad scope of disciplines and a variety of methodological approaches are available for training within the field of sleep, circadian and respiratory physiology and neurobiology research.

Examples of Summer 2023 projects:

Faculty Preceptor: Jason DeBruyne, PhD, Professor in the Department of  Pharmacology & Toxicology at Morehouse School of Medicine

1) Summer trainees will participate in research investigating how Angelman Syndrome impacts the neurobiology of sleep regulation in mice.
2) Summer trainees will contribute to a project that seeks to understand common and sex-specific intersection points between circadian clocks and metabolism from mice to humans.

Faculty Preceptor: Thomas E. Scammell, MD, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School
If you’ve ever wondered why interacting with friends and family tends to increase your attention or why people with autism spectrum disorder seem to lose focus when someone is talking to them, you may be interested in this research. We’re investigating how oxytocin neurons of the hypothalamus promote social interaction and social memory in relation to arousal. We use chemogenetic and optogenetic techniques to target specific neuronal circuits in the brains of mice. The student will have opportunities to test and analyze social interaction, and how this influences sleep and memory. The position includes handling mice, recording social interactions, and analyzing video and sleep recordings. The student will also learn histology, including sectioning and immunostaining mouse brains. 

Faculty Preceptor: Clifford B. Saper, MD, PhD, James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School
Using opto- and chemogenetics to interrogate brain circuitry for controlling circadian rhythms of physiology and behavior, and circuitry controlling the arousal during apneas that occur during sleep.

Examples of past projects:

Drs. Jeanne Duffy and Charles Czeisler are carrying out a clinical trial to improve hypersomnolence in post-TBI patients. There are numerous reports of narcolepsy-like symptoms following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in previously non-symptomatic individuals. While the presentation is not typical and the onset is heterogeneous, it is estimated that narcolepsy in post-TBI patients is approximately 100 times more common than in the general population.  In addition to post-traumatic narcolepsy, the prevalence of post-traumatic hypersomnia has also been reported to be quite high, ranging from ~28% to 57% although the number of participants in each study is relatively small. For the majority of post-TBI patients, hypersomnia seems to persist for months or even years. We are carrying out a field study of post-TBI patients with complaints of long sleep duration, narcolepsy-like symptoms, or excessive daytime sleepiness to test whether Xyrem (sodium oxybate) can improve those symptoms. The summer student assisted the research team by interviewing potential participants about their medical history and current symptoms and medications; administering and scoring standardized questionnaires during screening and study visits; taking vital signs and recording electrocardiograms during screening and study visits; attending weekly study team meetings where progress is reviewed.

Dr. Janet Mullington and her colleagues investigate the role of sleep and the effects of sleep loss in the functioning of the inflammatory system in healthy humans. Students had the opportunityto be involved in a study investigating two different behavioral approaches to improving sleep to lower blood pressure. In this study, beat to beat blood pressure, actigraphy and EEG will be measured in addition to performance and subjective indices of well-being. In addition, we sampled blood for measurement of inflammatory mediators, stress markers and other markers of physiological function. In addition, projects are underway to explore biomarkers, using previously collected blood samples from studies of extreme conditions of experimental, controlled sleep schedules.

Dr. Robert Stickgold and his post doc, Tony Cunningham, explored the impact of sleep and sleep loss on emotion processing and memory. A growing body of evidence suggests that sleep plays a crucial role in this adaptive processing by assisting to preserve emotional content while stripping away affective reactivity and irrelevant detail. There is a gap in the literature, however, in how these systems function (or become dysfunctional) following both acute and chronic sleep disturbance. The objective of the study was to quantify the impact of acute sleep deprivation on the processing of emotional information and characterize the neural (fMRI) and psychophysiological (heart rate and skin conductance reactivity) mechanisms underlying these phenomena. Information from this study will highlight the deleterious effects of sleep loss and combat the view that sleep is of minimal value, particularly in stressful situations (e.g., military assignment). Additionally, these results will provide foundational information for future translational research to develop sleep-based interventions for both healthy and clinical cohorts that struggle with sleep and emotion processing, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The summer student gained experience in a number of hands-on techniques, including the administration of cognitive tests, measuring psychophysiological responses (heart rate, skin conductance), and polysomnograph (PSG) recording to allow for the analysis of sleep stages. Students had the opportunity to assist with overnight sleep and sleep deprivation studies, and training in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The student also attended weekly lab meetings to discuss progress on this project and other lab projects.

Dr. John Winkelman is carried out a clinical trial to improve sleep quality and quantity in patients with poorly-controlled Type 2 diabetes. Sleep disturbance is one of the underappreciated and important features of Type 2 diabetes, and may contribute to the development of the disease. In those with established Type 2 diabetes, there is emerging evidence from cross-sectional studies that sleep disturbance affects glycemic control. We are carrying out a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial examining the effectiveness of suvorexant, an orexin antagonist which is FDA-approved for treatment of insomnia, in improving sleep and glycemic control in patients with Type 2 diabetes and insomnia.

Dr. Emery Brown's statistics research uses likelihood, Bayesian, state-space, time-series and point process approaches to develop statistical methods and signal-processing algorithms for neuroscience data analysis. These methods have been used to: characterize how neurons represent information in their ensemble firing patterns; characterize the dynamics of neural receptive field formation; relate changes in neural activity to changes in performance during learning; improve signal extraction from fMR imaging time-series; localize dynamically brain sources of neural activity from EEG and MEG recordings made during cognitive, motor and somatosensory tasks; measure the period of the human biological clock and its sensitivity to light; and characterize the dynamics of human heart beats in physiological and pathological states. Dr. Brown's experimental research takes a systems neuroscience approach to study how the state of general anesthesia is induced and maintained. It uses fMRI, EEG, neurophysiological recordings, microdialysis methods and mathematical modeling in interdisciplinary collaborations with investigators at MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University.

Dr. Jeanne Duffy and her research team are interested in understanding how age-related changes in sleep quality and duration affect waking performance, mood, and memory. Recent studies suggest healthy older adults can better maintain some types of performance under acute sleep deprivation than can younger adults, even though their nighttime sleep quality and duration is worse. Dr. Duffy and team's 39-day inpatient study schedules both older and young adults to chronic sleep restriction (the equivalent of 6 h sleep per 24 h for 3 weeks) and tests waking alertness, performance, attention, mood and memory throughout these 3 weeks, as well as during a follow-up sleep extension (10 h sleep per night for 1 week).  A summer student in this group assisted the research team in ongoing study execution and data collection from study participants, and analyzed subjective mood ratings from participants.  In particular, Dr. Duffy and team are interested in how mood changes throughout the waking episode, how the time of day (circadian phase) affects mood, how mood changes across days and weeks of sleep restriction, and how mood is related to performance measures.

Dr. Elizabeth Klerman and colleagues are interested in (1) developing new methods of analysis of circadian rhythms, sleep, hormones and performance and mood data and (2) mathematical modeling of human circadian and sleep rhythms and their effect on performance and mood under a variety of conditions (3) inter-individual variability in human circadian rhythms, sleep, performance and mood.

Dr. Janet Mullington and her colleagues investigate the role of sleep and the effects of sleep loss in the functioning of the inflammatory system in healthy humans. Further investigations involve the study of pain sensitivity in individuals suffering from insomnia. Students this summer will have opportunities to be involved in either line of research.

Dr. Robert Stickgold and his colleagues investigate the sleep-dependent aspects of cognition, focusing on the roles of sleep and dreaming in off-line memory reprocessing. In examining the role of sleep in cognitive processes, Dr. Stickgold’s work aims to define, delineate, and demonstrate sleep's role in perception, learning, memory, and emotions, with a focus on sleep as a process that evolved to enhance the consolidation and integration of memories. More recently, this work has been extended into studies of alterations in sleep-dependent learning in schizophrenics and of dreaming in amnesiacs.

Our Summer Research Training Program for Underrepresented Medical Students exists in parallel with the student’s training that they receive at the Medical School in which they are enrolled. Students accepted to this program will receive a stipend for up to three months and may also receive additional support for training related housing and travel. Supplementary funding may also be available through a student’s home institution.

All Related Links
Research Training Program
Program Description (overview)
Program Faculty (descriptions of research interests)
Pre-doctoral Trainee Program Description
Postdoctoral Trainee Program Description 
Trainees' Portal Page
Administrative Resources and Training Support
Eligibility Guidelines for prospective applicants
Finding housing in Boston, and other guidance for summer students
Forms and Resources page (find all forms, application materials, eligibility guidelines, orientation packet, FAQs and other help)