Science Alumni Spotlight: Jorge A. Avila
A postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University, he has distinguished himself through his publications and commitment to diversity.
Jorge A. Avila (Ph.D. ’19, Psychology; Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience training area) remembers that as a kid he was turned off by how TV, movies, and other media portrayed science “as a foreign and sacred calling, which soured my opinion of it.” Yet he pestered his parents with “weirdly specific questions about linguistics, biology, and psycho-social topics after having learned of them.” His curiosity led him to a career in neuroscience.
Now, as an INSPIRE postdoctoral fellow at the Rutgers University Brain Health Institute, Avila studies the mechanisms underlying substance addiction. He has published several first-author papers on the subject and has distinguished himself through his research record and commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in science.
While pursuing his Ph.D. in Psychology, where he was a member of Professor Peter Serrano’s (GC/Hunter, Psychology, Biology, Biochemistry, Cognitive Neuroscience) lab, he published five papers, four as the first author. He focused his doctoral work on characterizing the effects of chronic voluntary oral methamphetamine on hippocampal-dependent behaviors and on the underlying neurochemistry. He also participated in collaborative research projects on topics such as characterizing sex differences in the context of chronic methamphetamine and evaluating age differences in responses to neurotoxic prostaglandin signaling.
These interdisciplinary experiences, he explains, prepared him to pursue further research into the neuroscience of addiction in the lab of Gary Aston-Jones, director of the Rutgers Brain Health Institute. Specifically, Avila investigates the role of hypothalamic plasticity and molecular signaling in the context of cocaine addiction, with the aim of developing new pharmacotherapeutic strategies to be used in clinical settings.
In 2021, he was awarded a prestigious travel award by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. He presented his research ideas on the role of orexin plasticity in cognitive functions. Most recently, he participated in the Society for Neuroscience’s Hill Day at which he advocated for robust biomedical research funding to members of Congress, including to representatives of New York’s 11th Congressional District, which encompasses Staten Island and southern Brooklyn, of which he is a constituent.
Avila is passionate about promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in biomedical research. He mentors students through the National Science Foundation–funded Louise Stokes Alliance Minority Participation program at Rutgers. He also develops a structured mentoring program for the National Hispanic Network, which provides networking opportunities for addiction researchers throughout the United States.
“It is clear that my pursuit of a career in science," Avila writes, "has been driven by an innate drive to understand the world around me, even if it annoys a person or two.”