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Discovering Truth About Addiction and Our Brains: Joakim Ronstroem

Joakim Ronstroem 2
Photo by Tanner Frost

After serving a full-time mission in Minnesota, Joakim Ronstroem, PhD ’24 (NEURO), left his homeland of Sweden to attend BYU Idaho. While studying to become a physical therapist, he became so enthralled with the nervous system that he changed his major to neuroscience. “Somehow, there and then, I just felt like this is what I'm going to be doing,” says Ronstroem about the time. “This is what I want to spend my life researching and learning more about.”

Neuroscience was always Ronstroem’s passion, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to study it while pursuing a medical or a graduate degree. For him, it took attending medical school to realize that he preferred graduate school. For the past four years, he has worked with Dr. Jordan Yorgason, professor of Cell Biology and Physiology, studying how the brain functions in substance abuse disorders.

Through his research, Ronstroem hopes to help answer one critical question: how does drug abuse influence reward pathways in the brain? Specifically, his research focuses on uncovering how some drugs, especially opiates and psychostimulants, affect certain brain circuits. Ronstroem’s work sheds light on what parts of the brain are involved in addiction and the specific processes behind what is happening between brain cells that lead to substance dependence.

Ronstroem’s work ethic and positive attitude have made a big difference in the lab. He is known for “his cheerful disposition (he's always quick to laugh and enjoys having a good time), his love of Coldplay, and his willingness to help with animal checks,” shares Yorgason, his lab advisor.

Joakim is seen from an arial view, working with some equipment in his lab.
Photo by Tanner Frost

Ronstroem has been a prolific researcher and engaged student. He has written twelve grant proposals, and has been involved in six manuscripts, two of which he was the first author. Yorgason muses, “You can always count on [him] to ask excellent questions. He’s great at sharing advice and alternative perspectives on research and life.”

One of the reasons Ronstroem loves what he does is that he gets to help discover truth. He feels that discovering truths through science can bring you closer to God. “You're learning more about Him and what He has created,” he reflects.

Ronstroem’s academic future looks bright as he continues to shed light on addiction and the brain.