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When Trustee Scholar Joshua Garber ’06 (Staten Island, N.Y.) enrolls in medical school in a few years, he will have an advantage over his fellow first-year students.

Not only will the neuroscience major have a solid undergraduate education, he will have already spent many hours in a laboratory, honing his skills and learning about cutting-edge technologies.

Working with Elaine Reynolds, associate professor of biology and head of neuroscience, Garber is using a type of genetic engineering on fruit flies with epilepsy to determine what part of their brains causes the neuro-degenerative disorder.

They are collaborating through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“My ultimate goal is to go to med school and recombinant [recombining DNA sequences] technology is growing,” Garber says. “Since this EXCEL technology is using the same techniques, it seemed very appropriate to learn about them.”

The focus of the research is to learn if fruit flies and humans share the same pathways that involve epilepsy.

“Josh has been using molecular biology to create a tool that would allow us to put the normal gene in the specific part of the fly’s brain,” says Reynolds. “It’s called a rescue experiment because we’re trying to rescue the epilepsy in particular parts of the brain so we’ll know which are involved in the disease.”

If Reynolds and Garber discover that epilepsy affects the same areas of the brain in humans and the insects, they will be able to learn much more about the disease.

“It certainly has the potential to break new ground,” Garber says. “If we can show a one-to-one correspondence between the cellular mechanism and the behavior – that’s the interesting part.”

More than simply wanting to learn about this innovative technology, Garber chose the project because he sought research experience.

“I’m better at doing things in theory than doing things with my hands, but as a doctor there’s a lot of hands-on work,” he says. “Under the tutelage of Dr. Reynolds, I think I will be helped in that regard. I will be allowed to enhance my practical skills, such as working with organisms under a microscope.”

Reynolds says the project will give Garber, whom she chose as a research assistant based on his academic record and desire to conduct molecular biology-based research, improved lab skills.

“I think it will give him a different set of skills that he might not get in classroom work,” she says. “As he develops a one-on-one relationship with me as a mentor, it allows him to apply the knowledge that he’s gained in the classroom, which is really important because it’s one thing to learn it all and another to use it to solve problems.”

Perhaps most importantly, the work will help Garber develop as a problem solver.

“Josh is incredibly good in the classroom, but he really wanted to develop skills solving problems in the lab and molecular biology is very much a problem-solving field, which is one of the reasons I’ve given him this project,” explains Reynolds.

“Society is at a point where there is so much technology that it becomes crucial for us to develop a better understanding of it, and I think this is one thing that will allow me to do that,” Garber says. “There has been a lot of controversy over some of the moral and ethical issues of using stem cells and this might even tie into that. Just understanding the technology ought to give me a more objective vantage to assess the value of allowing this technology to continue.”

Garber is a McKelvy House Scholar, writing associate, mentor, and certified emergency medical technician. He has been a general chemistry tutor. He graduated from Staten Island Technical high school.

Selected from among Lafayette’s top applicants, Trustee Scholars like Garber have distinguished themselves through exceptional academic achievement in high school. They receive from Lafayette an annual minimum scholarship of $7,500 ($8,000 effective with the Class of 2009) or a grant in the full amount of their demonstrated need if the need is more than $7,500.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News