I completed my BSc (Hons) in psychology at the University of Manitoba under the supervision of Dr. Tammy Ivanco. Throughout my undergrad, I investigated neural plasticity, or the way the brain changes with experience. For my MSc, I furthered my interest in neural plasticity by combining it with my interest in mental health. I completed my MSc in neuroscience here at Western under the supervision of Drs. Lisa Saksida and Timothy Bussey in their Translational Cognitive Neuroscience (TCN) Lab. With the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework as my guide for conceptualizing and anatomizing mood disorders, I investigated the role adult neurogenesis, or the generation of new neurons, plays in emotion regulation, specifically depression-relevant reward-related behaviours. Even though I still am very much interested in the neurological underpinnings of mood disorders and how these findings may reshape how we conceptualize/characterize these disorders, I’m shifting my focus towards neuroethics and cybernetics for my PhD in philosophy, under the supervision of Drs. Michael Anderson and Anthony Skelton. In particular, I’m interested in the implications of using technology for neuroenhancement purposes and how this interacts with issues of national defence, international relations, social hierarchies and economic power structures, and (re-)conceptualizing what is “human.”
Under the supervision of Dr. Tammy Ivanco at the University of Manitoba, I spent my psychology BSc (Hons) investigating how experience changes the brain (i.e., neural plasticity, neuroplasticity, etc.). I used many methods and models – including rodent models of autism and fragile X syndrome, early exposure to toxins, and molecular effects of the immune response – in order to study the mechanisms behind experience-dependent plasticity. I furthered my investigation on neural plasticity during my neuroscience MSc under the supervision of Drs. Lisa Saksida and Timothy Bussey here at Western. I focused on neurogenesis (i.e., the generation of new neurons), one type of neural plasticity, in the adult brain and combined it with my interest in mental health and mood disorders. I manipulated neurogenesis in rodent brains to determine whether neurogenesis impairment plays a causal role in emotion regulation, specifically focusing on depression-like behaviours. Importantly, my conceptualization of depression and other mood disorders in humans, as well as in models of these disorders in animals, was significantly influenced by the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework put together by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This framework implies a heterogeneity to depression where each class of symptoms may be influenced by different domains, each domain having separate measures/tests for assessment (e.g., the negative valence systems domain pertains to anxiety and fear behaviours, whereas the positive valence systems domain pertains to reward-related behaviours like motivation). I posit that what we currently think of as “depression” as a diagnosis is, in reality, multiple disorders each with their own neurological underpinnings; this view is supported by the RDoC framework, as well as the drastic variability in symptom profiles and responses to treatment across patients. As much of the work on neurogenesis and depression-like behaviours in rodents is dominated by tests assessing negative valence systems, I focused on positive valence system behaviours for my thesis (i.e., the role of adult neurogenesis in depression-relevant reward-related behaviours). I did so using the Bussey-Saksida rodent touchscreen operant chambers, which, arguably, provide one of the best platforms for assessing reward-related behaviours.
For my PhD in philosophy, I’ve shifted focus to neuroethics and neurophilosophy, with the supervision of Drs. Michael Anderson and Anthony Skelton. One of my main lines of inquiry is the ethics and implications of developing technological means for neuroenhancement. Much of this discourse is restricted to either the present moment (i.e., what is currently available for neuroenhancement) or some distant future (i.e., when these futuristic technologies that expand our biological neural networks [e.g., so we may be cloud-connected] have already been integrated into society). However, I’m more interested in the period in which these novel technologies are first being introduced for two main reasons. First, this is a notable blind spot in the current discourse and, second, the implications of novel technologies are often most profound during these liminal periods. Areas that I see as being most likely to be affected, or affected to the greatest degree, upon introduction of increasingly advanced neuronenhancement strategies are national defence, international relations, social hierarchies and economic power structures, and (re-)conceptualization of what is “human” (e.g., can cyborgs be considered human and, regardless of the answer, why?). In parallel, I’m also interested in technology and information systems/networks, or cybernetics (which also includes biological information networks like the nervous system), more generally, largely driven by current political environments. For instance, I have a deep fascination with cyberwar, cybersecurity, surveillance states (i.e., the Panopticon), censorship, and the duality of the internet as both a landscape for liberation, emancipation, and activism, but also as a landscape in which citizens are always vulnerable to surveillance, endangering personal protection and identity. Ultimately, I plan to continue empirical research in neuroscience and computer sciences to supplement, build upon, and strengthen my theoretical pursuits on the above issues. As a final note, this large shift in research interests is not to say that I am no longer interested in my previous pursuits on neural plasticity and mood disorders. I still have a deep-seated interest in these topics and a strong passion for mental illness etiology and the (re-)conceptualization of these illnesses, so I want to continue these avenues, primarily by maintaining affiliation with TCN Lab.
Zmavc, K. D., Kramar, C. P. (2019). “Measuring mood in rodents: From mazes to touchscreens.” University of Western Ontario Medical Journal, 87(S1), 4-7. doi: 10.5206/uwomj.v87iS1.4878 (https://ojs.lib.uwo.ca/index.php/uwomj/article/view/4878)
Zmavc, K. (2019). “The role of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in depression-relevant reward-related behaviours.” Western University Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6734. (https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/6734/)
Zmavc, K. D., Saksida, L. M., Bussey, T. J. (2019, Jun). The Role of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Depression-Relevant Reward-Based Behaviours. International Touchscreen Symposium, London, ON
Zmavc, K., Ivanco, T.L. (2017, Feb). Is IL-1β a Traveller to the Brain? Canadian Spring Conference on Behaviour and Brain, Fernie, BC
Scientific Poster Presentations:
Zmavc, K. D., Kramar, C. P., Reichelt, A. C., Prado, V. F., Prado, M. A. M., Saksida, L. M., Bussey, T. J. The Role of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Depression-Relevant Reward-Related Behaviours. Presented at: Neuroscience Research Day (2020, Feb). London, ON; Canadian Association for Neuroscience (CAN) Annual Meeting (2019, May). Toronto, ON
Zmavc, K. D., Kramar, C. P., Saksida, L. M., Bussey, T. J. Neurogenesis in the Adult Hippocampus and Its Role in Mood. Presented at: London Health Research Day (LHRD) (2019, Apr). London, ON; Western Research Forum (2019, Mar). London, ON; Physiology & Pharmacology Department Research Day (2018, Oct). London, ON; Robarts Research Institute Research Retreat (2018, Jun). London, ON; LHRD (2018, May). London, ON; Southern Ontario Neuroscience Association Annual Meeting (2018, May). Guelph, ON
Zmavc, K., Tomy, G., Fry, M., Ivanco, T. L. (2017, May). Early Exposure to DBE-DBCH Alters Motor Behavioural Outcomes in Females. CAN Annual Meeting, Montreal, QC
Zmavc, K., Ivanco, T.L. (2016, Oct). The Effect of Exercise on Stress Resiliency in a Rodent Model of Autism. Undergraduate Research Poster Competition, Winnipeg, MB
Zmavc, K., Ivanco, T.L. (2015, Oct). Ang-1 Expression in the Mouse Model of Fragile X Syndrome. Undergraduate Research Poster Competition, Winnipeg, MB
Zmavc, K., Ivanco, T.L. (2014, Oct). Modulating Effects of MK-801 in the Presence of IL-1β. Undergraduate Research Poster Competition, Winnipeg, MB