Courtney Matheny, PhD, has always had a passion for helping people. She knew from the age of 12, after learning that a friend had a congenital heart defect, that she wanted to make her mark in the world through medicine.
Matheny was originally considering medical school when she went to work in the lab of Drs. Rich and Heather Steet at the University of Georgia. “It didn’t take long for me to absolutely fall in love with using zebrafish to study human disease,” said Matheny, “and within six months of working for the Steets, I decided to apply to graduate school.”
Upon completing her PhD at Emory University, Matheny realized that throughout graduate school she had lost some of her passion because her research wasn’t directly helping anyone. It was then that she reached out to Dr. Heather Flanagan-Steet, who had since moved her zebrafish lab to the Greenwood Genetic Center.
“Even though I didn’t work for her anymore, she was still my mentor,” said Matheny. “She told me about what they were doing at GGC and how I could be a part of it. The compassion I have for others is what truly drives me forward in my scientific career, and rejoining the Steets’ lab at GGC just felt like the right thing for me to do.”
Dr. Matheny joined GGC in 2022 as a postdoctoral associate, or postdoc, in the Center’s Research Division.
A postdoc is a position that many scientists pursue after graduate school to provide additional research experience, skills, and training to further prepare them for a faculty-level career in academia or research.
Dr. Matheny’s current projects involve working with zebrafish in GGC’s Allin Aquaculture Facility to better understand the causes of neurological symptoms experienced by patients with rare metabolic disorders such as congenital disorders of glycosylation and lysosomal storage disorders.
“I love working with model organisms like the zebrafish because they are such an elegant solution to understanding our own biology and diseases,” said Matheny. “Our goal should be to understand how a mutation affects the whole body and you can only do that by studying the whole organism.”
Matheny’s ongoing postgraduate education will expand this summer. She has been accepted to participate in the prestigious ‘Zebrafish Development and Genetics’ course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Matheny was one of only 22 individuals selected for the course out of hundreds of applicants. Thorough a rigorous schedule of lectures, bench experiments, and hands-on learning, Matheny hopes to gain a better understanding of the zebrafish central nervous system and new techniques that she can apply to her work at GGC.
“We are extremely excited for Courtney, as this is a tremendous educational and career development opportunity for her,” said Dr. Flanagan-Steet, Director of Functional Studies at GGC. “It will also bring additional visibility to the Center in the zebrafish community – with several world-renowned scientific leaders serving on the course faculty.”
Dr. Matheny hopes this experience will enhance her skills and provide her with the confidence and expertise to some day run her own research lab. “It feels like I’m at the beginning of a very exciting career and am becoming a true expert in my field of study.” Of her mentors, the Steets, Courtney said, “Anyone who works with them can tell how passionate they are and how incredibly hard they work to find answers for patients. It’s what I hope someone says about me someday.”