Rutgers CBN Faculty Member Victoria Abraira Wins Prestigious Rita Allen Foundation Scholar Award

The Rita Allen Foundation has selected its 2023 class of Rita Allen Foundation Scholars, celebrating nine early-career leaders in the biomedical sciences whose research holds exceptional promise for revealing new pathways to advance human health. The selected Scholars will receive grants of up to $110,000 annually for a maximum of five years to conduct innovative research on critical topics in cancer, immunology, neuroscience, and pain. Scholars in the Class of 2023 are investigating gene expression regulation and dysregulation in cancers; the role of a distinctive brain structure, the choroid plexus, in supporting brain health; and the impact of autoantibodies in advancing pain in complicated diseases such as fibromyalgia.

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Victoria Abraira, an assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University, has been named a 2023 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar for her groundbreaking research on the sense of touch. Abraira's work focuses on how touch influences movement, social interaction, and pain perception in humans.

Abraira's interest in the sense of touch was inspired by her grandmother, who could recognize her simply by feeling her touch, despite having impaired vision and hearing in her later years. This personal connection drove Abraira to delve deeper into understanding the importance of touch in our lives.

As one of only nine scholars selected for this prestigious award, Abraira joins a distinguished group of early-career leaders in biomedical sciences whose research shows great promise for improving human health. Her research involves genetically altering neurons in mice to study the effects on their spinal cords and behavior, with the ultimate goal of gaining insights into spinal cord injuries and chronic pain conditions.

One key aspect of Abraira's research is the role of oxytocin, known as the "love hormone," in regulating the body's response to touch. By investigating how touch triggers oxytocin release in both mice and humans, Abraira hopes to uncover new therapeutic approaches for anxiety disorders, PTSD, autism, and other neurological conditions characterized by sensory processing difficulties.

Abraira's findings suggest that combining non-opioid analgesics like synthetic oxytocin with touch-based therapies such as deep tissue massage could offer effective pain relief without the risk of addiction. This innovative approach challenges traditional views on pain management and highlights the potential benefits of incorporating touch-based interventions into clinical practice.

Through her pioneering research on the sense of touch, Victoria Abraira is paving the way for new discoveries in neuroscience and opening up exciting possibilities for improving quality of life for individuals living with chronic pain and sensory disorders. Her work exemplifies the transformative impact that scientific inquiry can have on advancing human health and well-being.