New Faculty Focus: LaTasha Crawford

December 11, 2018

Name: LaTasha K. Crawford

Title: Assistant Professor

Hometown: Washington, D.C., Area

LaTasha Crawford

Educational/professional background:  I received a B.S. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University. After I graduated I did research at the National Institutes of Neurologic Disease and Stroke (NIH) and then pursued both a Veterinary Medical Doctorate and Ph.D. in Neuroscience through the VMSTP combined degree program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. I built upon both facets of my career as a clinician-scientist as a pathology postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. This included residency training in Veterinary Anatomic Pathology, and I am now a board-certified Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. I also did a postdoctoral fellowship in pain neurobiology with Dr. Michael Caterina in the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Pain Research Institute.

How did you get into your field of research?  I was one of those kids that grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, but was always drawn to the unique biology that different types of animals exhibit. When I was exposed to biomedical research as an undergrad, I realized the benefits that a comparative biology perspective could bring to the field of biomedical research. I wanted to help analyze and improve animal models of human disease, to design the experiments and improve the way we extrapolate conclusions. My dissertation research models of anxiety disorders to characterize the differences in serotonin neurons that modulate the peripheral nervous system (PNS) versus those that modulate the brain. I now focus more intently on the PNS, to learn how sensory neurons are altered by injury or disease and how that contributes to chronic pain. I am also a veterinary pathologist with an interest in neuropathology. I want to use this skillset to help identify which discoveries from our mouse studies are the most relevant for diseases in other species, including both veterinary and human patients.

What attracted you to UW–Madison? I was struck by the collegial and collaborative nature of the departments at the School of Veterinary Medicine and pleasantly surprised to see that mirrored in departments outside of the Vet school as well. The more I learned about the institution as a whole, the more it felt like this was a place that would be invested in my success and supportive of interdisciplinary, collaborative approaches to research questions. That is exactly the type of environment in which I thrive.

What was your first visit to campus like? During my first visit, I was impressed by the uncommon combination of beautiful wooded areas, scenic lakes, and a vibrant city, enjoyed by people of all ages. I could see why so many people end up loving this place.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?  Of course I would love for my students to become as intrigued and passionate about the brain and nervous system as I am. However, even more than that, I want students to walk away from my classes with a sense of understanding that enables them to have a critical eye to analyze the world around them. This is particularly crucial for advancing scientific research and improving patient care, but it’s an analytical skill set that is valuable for a wide range of careers.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? Yes. Our animals can be members of the family or the mainstay of the family business. As a clinician I help diagnose disease in veterinary patients and help train the next generation of veterinarians and veterinary pathologists. Because of their training, the veterinarians that I help to train are apt to bring cutting edge technologies, new diagnostic techniques, and novel therapies to the cage side, so to speak, helping families and businesses throughout Wisconsin and beyond.

In addition, our research goal is to help to bridge the gap between lab discoveries and health benefits for patients of all types. Part of our research aims to build upon mouse studies done in the lab in order to learn more about animals other than mice. By studying naturally occurring diseases in animals and the way that veterinary patients respond to treatments, we can learn a tremendous amount about the mechanisms of that disease process and how those mechanisms may differ between species. This type of understanding can provide a crucial link between exciting discoveries in mouse studies and new drugs or diagnostic techniques that can actually work in a patient setting, where the biology can be much more complex than that of a laboratory mouse. These efforts can ultimately benefit the diagnosis and treatment of disease, improving the lives of the animals we rely upon and our own lives as well.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?  Skin is innervated by many different types of nerve cells (or neurons) some that are excited by light touch, others by itch, or pain. It turns out your sense of touch and your sense of pain are interrelated. Sometimes your touch neurons can contribute to pain: After you scrape your skin or in certain diseases, gently stroking the skin can feel quite painful. But at other times, like if you bang your leg on a chair, pressing or rubbing the area to excite your touch neurons can help make the pain go away. Depending on the circumstances, your touch neurons can either produce pain or dampen pain!

Hobbies/other interests: Travel, hiking, trail running, playing and watching sports including volleyball and football.