November 1, 2011
WOOSTER, Ohio — You never know what you might learn at an undergraduate research conference. Take, for example, the recent Midwest/Great Lakes Undergraduate Research Symposium in Neuroscience at The College of Wooster, where attendees discovered that Viagra targets the same pathways that dilate blood vessels as nitric oxide drugs, which are showing promise in the battle against Muscular Dystrophy.
“Viagra works as a blood-flow regulating drug that improves cardiac function by dilating blood vessels,” said Priscilla Haug, a senior neuroscience major at Wooster. “What happens with dystrophy patients is that they have a lack of the muscle protein dystrophin. Without it, the structure of muscle cell membranes becomes extremely unstable. This causes a decrease in the levels of nitric oxide, which is important in regulating blood flow in contracting muscles.”
Haug presented her findings along with dozens of other students at the symposium. Her results were based on research she conducted through a summer internship at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where she lives.
A total of 80 students and more than 20 faculty from 18 schools attended the daylong event, which began with words of encouragement from Wooster’s Provost, Carolyn Newton, who said, “The symposium is an absolutely spectacular opportunity for students to present their research.”
And that was precisely the point, according to Amy Jo Stavnezer, associate professor of psychology at Wooster and coordinator of the event. “We wanted to give students who have done neuroscience-related research a venue to present their findings,” she said. “Neuroscience is a relatively new discipline, so there aren’t as many opportunities for our students to present their research to a focused audience. Some of them will use the experience to prepare for the upcoming Society for Neuroscience meeting, which is our major annual event.”
In addition to the research posters and presentations, the symposium featured a keynote address by A. Courtney DeVries, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University, who spoke about “Social Influences on the Brain,” and group sessions on graduate school, medical school, and alternative careers in science.
In one of those sessions, Paul Bonvallet, associate professor of chemistry at Wooster, and Erin Wright, a 2008 Wooster graduate and current medical school student, were joined by Cara Constance of Hiram College, for an informative chat about some of the myths associated with gaining admittance to medical school, including the notion that you have to major in the sciences to be considered for admittance. “Take as many science classes as possible,” said Wright, a former neuroscience major, “but don’t be afraid to try or even major in other disciplines.”
Also addressed was the issue of waiting a year or longer before applying for admission. “It’s really a matter of when you are ready,” said Wright. “The (application) process if very personal, so you have to decide when the time is right.” Other issues included when to take the MCAT, how to gather letters of recommendation, and how to go about writing your personal essay.
Haug, who hopes to attend medical school after taking a year off, said the symposium was helpful in a number of ways. “The sessions were very informative,” she said, “and it was great to be able to share my research while learning what other students were doing.”
Funding for the event was provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as well as Neuroscience graduate programs at West Virginia University, University of Cincinnati, and Ohio State.
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