2021 Michael J. Peach Outstanding Graduate Student Award Winner: Ashley Bolte

Ashley BolteAshley Bolte, a graduate student in the Lukens lab, has won the Michael J. Peach Award for 2021. This annual award is made to a graduate student who embodies enthusiasm for research and the principles of sharing and collaboration.

Ashley grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland and attended the University of Virginia for college, graduating with a B.S. in Biology and Religious Studies. From there, she did one year of research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland in a viral immunology lab. She then returned to UVA for the MSTP program in 2016 and completed her PhD work in John Lukens’ lab, where she studied the meningeal lymphatics in the context of traumatic brain injury. She is currently applying to internal medicine residency programs. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys hiking, landscape photography and spending time with her family and friends.

We asked Ashley to tell us about her research and her hopes for the future. Here’s what she said.

Tell us about your research.

For my thesis work, I investigated the role of the meningeal lymphatic system in traumatic brain injury (TBI) pathogenesis. The meningeal lymphatic system, discovered in 2015, provides a link between the central nervous system and then peripheral immune system. We demonstrated in an experimental mouse model of TBI that mild forms of brain trauma cause severe deficits in meningeal lymphatic drainage that begin within hours and last out to at least one month post-injury. To investigate a mechanism underlying impaired lymphatic function in TBI, we examined how increased intracranial pressure (ICP) influences the meningeal lymphatics. We demonstrated that increased ICP can contribute to meningeal lymphatic dysfunction. Moreover, we showed that pre-existing lymphatic dysfunction before TBI leads to increased neuroinflammation and negative cognitive outcomes. Finally, we found that rejuvenation of meningeal lymphatic drainage function in aged mice can ameliorate TBI-induced gliosis. These findings provide insights into both the causes and consequences of meningeal lymphatic dysfunction in TBI and suggest that therapeutics targeting the meningeal lymphatic system may offer strategies to treat TBI.  Now, I am focusing on understanding more about meningeal immunity after traumatic brain injury and how this environment changes with aging.

What drives or motivates your scientific pursuits?

As a future physician scientist, I am motivated to use my knowledge in both basic science and clinical medicine to hopefully discover new avenues for treatments and therapies that could eventually shape clinical care. Furthermore, I am motivated by the patients I have seen in the hospital and clinic with conditions that we do not fully understand yet. I hope to serve as a bridge between these two interconnected fields.

What are your future goals?

My goals are to complete training in internal medicine and eventually become a clinician investigator that focuses on translational neuroimmunology research.


Congratulations on winning this award, Ashley!