Brayden Leyva graduated at the top of his class as valedictorian and as the 2016-2017 Porterville Male Youth of the Year. He was active in travel water polo, competitive swimming, Boy Scouts of America, Pleasant View 4-H, and served as Monache FFA President for two
years where he raised lambs and participated in various local fairs. He was also involved in student government, served as Associated Student Body treasurer, math club president, a member of California Scholarship and National Honor Society, vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America, and active in his FFA chapter, competing in numerous judging teams and speaking competitions, including impromptu and extemporaneous public speaking, and was on California State Champion teams and received many first-place individual awards.
While at Monache, Leyva said he discovered a passion for pathology and the sciences in his AP biology course. And after being accepted into all of the universities in the UC system, Brayden decided to attend UCLA where he graduated in June with departmental honors and a degree in Biology and Professional Writing.
During his time at UCLA, Brayden was active in numerous extra-curricular activities and internships and joined the Central Valley Project at UCLA and returned often to help students in pursuit of higher education.
Christie Bennett, Monache High School Ag instructor and advisor, praised Leyva, calling him an ideal student and one who succeeded in all he did during his time with FFA and at Monache.
“I’m not surprised at all,” she said about all he has achieved and is yet to achieve.
Following his graduation from high school, the two became friends when Leyva returned again and again to the Central Valley, and to the campus, to mentor and help students.
“He would come and talk to students on campus at Monache and other schools to help students apply to college and see what the benefits would be if they went to schools in the California State and UC systems,” Bennett said.
In addition, Bennett said, he served as president on a team, and led it, that involved fundraising and collecting funds to help students go to college.
As an undergraduate research assistant in two labs, including Dr. Andrea Hevener's Laboratory in the David Geffen School of Medicine and the Sack Laboratory in the department of Ecological and Evolutionary Biology, Leyva served as a learning assistant for a calculus and computer coding course for other undergraduate students. He was also a California TEACH student intern volunteering at the local elementary school, and during his first year served as a mentor for the global siblings international program. In addition, he has volunteered for more than 400 hours as a care extender at Ronald Reagan Hospital, and as a sports medicine intern for the UCLA athletic sports teams.
Continuing with his passion for government, Brayden also served as dorm president and presided over weekly meetings and budget reports. Brayden is currently enrolled in UCLA's Integrative Biology and Physiology Masters program with hopes of enrolling in a joint MD/PhD physician scientist training program.
Leyva said he first became interested in chronic illness and neurological disorders after his grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease — a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.
“Neurological disorders are the third most common cause of disability and premature death in the United States, and were identified as one of the greatest public-health concerns by the World Health Organization,” Leyva said. “The occurrence of chronic inflammation is a common thread among the majority of neurological disorders including Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis.”
Microglia, the immune cells found in the brain and spinal cord, contribute towards maintaining a healthy Central Nervous system by responding quickly to neuronal damage or infection by communicating directly with the affected neurons to perform inflammatory (inflammation) functions, Leyva said.
Previous studies, however, suggest chronic microglial activation and the inflammation contributes to the development of neurological disorders, Leyva said, and exercise promotes anti-inflammatory secretions, delaying the onset of dementia-related disorders.
“The aim of my research is to identify transcripts differentially expressed in microglia following exercise training to identify inflammatory targets that are suppressed by physical activity,” Leyva said. “The overarching goal of my research is to identify key transcriptional nodes' direct impact on neuroinflammation caused by activated microglia. By identifying genes responsible for chronic CNS inflammation despite neuroprotection such as exercise, we provide key targets that will guide pharmacological therapeutics and bridge the knowledge gap that exists between microglial activation, exercise and neurological decline.”