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Five Lafayette students will conduct cutting-edge research this summer with leaders in the neuroscience field through the new LafayettE Alumni Research Network, which has received a grant from the McCutcheon Foundation.

The first group of LEARN students are neuroscience majors Megan Coyer ’05 of Slippery Rock, Pa.; John Hammond ’03 of Highland, Md.; Jennifer Katzenstein ’03 of Chittenango, N.Y.; Stephen Tanner ’04 of Florence, Ala.; and Katherine Vassos ’03 of Wilmington, Del.

The students will be paid for eight to ten weeks of full-time work this summer. Travel to their mentor’s institution and room expenses also are covered through the program.

Coyer will work with Jay M. Weiss ’62 in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. She will have the opportunity to undertake research in one of two major areas studied by the laboratory. The first is using animal models to investigate the neurochemical basis of abnormal behavior and mental illness.

“Various selectively bred strains of rats that show abnormal behavior related to different behavioral disorders such as depression have been developed in the laboratory,” says Weiss. “These animals are studied in regard to neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, and electrophysiology.”

The second area is the relationship between environmental factors, particularly stress, and immune responses. “Research in this area recently has concentrated on studies of how behavioral and stress factors can influence cancer development,” says Weiss. “Inbred strains of animals are also employed in these studies, with strains used having been selected for utility in examining cancer development.”

Hammond will partner with James A. Simmons ’65 in the department of neuroscience at Brown University in Providence, R.I. He will participate in projects exploring the flight and sonar activities of echo-locating bats while they fly in difficult acoustic conditions.

“For example, we observe bats with thermal infrared cameras while they fly close together in groups, then reconstruct their sound emissions and locations for input into a computational model of echo processing in the bat’s auditory system,” says Simmons. “Next, we make single-cell recordings from the bat’s auditory system to learn how the computations are done in the bat.”

Katzenstein will conduct research with Peter J. Donovick ’61 of the psychobiology program at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. She will investigate information processing in persons with Multiple Sclerosis.

“Through neuropsychological techniques, we will assess the cognitive abilities of normal individuals and those with Multiple Sclerosis,” says Donovick. “[Jennifer] will be involved in data collection, tabulation, and writing.”

Tanner will be mentored by Donald W. Landry ’75, director of the division of clinical pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Columbia University, New York, N.Y. He will join ongoing investigations of the pharmacology of cocaine.

“In particular, we have discovered that cocaine covalently modifies proteins through a non-enzymatic reaction in which the methyl ester of cocaine acylates the side chain amino group of lysine residues,” says Landry. “This self-catalyzed reaction is highly specific as no other amino acid reacts with cocaine and only cocaine’s methyl ester reacts with lysine. Covalently modified proteins were present in the plasma of rats and human subjects chronically exposed to cocaine.

“In preliminary studies, modified endogenous proteins were found to be immunogenic and specific antibodies were elicited in the rat and detected in the plasma of human subjects. We have detected covalently modified proteins in cell membrane from the cerebral cortex of exposed rats. Spontaneous covalent modification of proteins could explain some of cocaine’s autoimmune effects and provide a new biochemical approach to cocaine’s long-term actions on the central nervous system.”

Vassos will work with Peter A. DeMaria ’80 of the division of substance abuse programs in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pa. He will choose from research projects ranging from biological work on the genetics of opiate addiction, to neurobiology of cocaine addition, to psychosocial research on cues and addictions as well as other research.

“All of this research takes place in a clinical rather than a ‘bench’ setting,” notes DeMaria.

LEARN represents one in a series of steps forward for Lafayette’s neuroscience program, which along with psychology will be housed this fall in a state-of-the-art building named for Walter Oechsle ’57 and Christa Oechsle in recognition of their commitment of $10 million to the Lafayette Leadership Campaign. The new facility will provide 45,000 square feet of space on five levels including teaching laboratories, faculty research laboratories, shared faculty-student research laboratories, and faculty offices. Awards of $150,000 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation and $85,000 from Alden Trust are providing equipment for instructional laboratories in Oechsle Hall.

“Lafayette is poised to have one of the pre-eminent neuroscience programs at the undergraduate level in the country,” says Julio J. Ramirez, the R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology at Davidson College, who conducted a review of Lafayette’s program as founding president of Project Kaleidoscope, a National Science Foundation -funded alliance to strengthen undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.

Wendy L. Hill, a professor of psychology specializing in comparative and physiological psychology, played the lead role in creating Lafayette’s neuroscience program. She is coauthor of the Project Kaleidoscope publication “Undergraduate Education in the Neurosciences: Four Blueprints.” Hill was named Pennsylvania’s Professor of the Year in 1999 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for her extraordinary dedication to teaching and exceptional impact on and involvement with undergraduate students. This fall, she will begin serving as William C. ’67 and Pamela Rappolt Professor in Neuroscience.

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A National Leader in Undergraduate Research. Jennifer Katzenstein ’03 made a presentation on honors research she did under the guidance of Wendy Hill, Rappolt Professor in Neuroscience, at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Society.

Categorized in: Academic News