A new academic minor and research discipline at North Central College will be represented for the first time at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Two of the 43 NCUR presentations will involve neuroscience research into drug usage and addiction that began in summer 2015.
Madison Cromwell ’17 and Elaina Bartoli ’17 are among a growing group of students pursuing studies and research in neuroscience, and they are headed to the University of North Carolina Asheville (NC) April 7-9 to present their work.
They have found their passion for the field of neuroscience while performing research with Maggie Gill, assistant professor of neuroscience, who established the program when she arrived at North Central in 2013. “When I was a freshman, I stopped by Dr. Gill’s research and I asked if I could help with research,” says Cromwell, who plans to attend graduate school in the field after completing an individualized major. “I’ve always loved neuroscience.”
Cromwell, Bartoli and a team of other science students have been researching behaviors related to drug usage among “differentially reared” rats. The rats lived in either enriched or impoverished conditions. The enriched conditions incorporated more socialization with other rats and humans and stimulation with toys. The impoverished group received minimal contact. The rats then learned a self-administration process, meaning that certain responses resulted in a drug infusion. This allows the rats to individually determine their own drug intake.
The students observed and measured the cocaine-seeking behavior of the rats, and found that those raised in the enriched conditions “exhibit a protective effect as they are less reactant to the rewarding properties of psycho stimulant drugs,” according to the research abstract.
Studying drug addiction behaviors in rats is a common practice due to their innate intelligence but “raising the rats in varied conditions is what differentiates our research,” says Cromwell.
“There’s so much to learn about the environmental factors related to drugs,” adds Bartoli, who wants to become a nurse practitioner and specialize in pediatric psychiatry. She is majoring in biology and minoring in neuroscience.
The data collected by the students is part of Gill’s larger research project. She used the students’ work as pilot data to apply for grant funding from the National Institutes of Health. “This work directly investigates how one’s environment during childhood impacts the brain, and alters someone’s susceptibility to drug abuse during adolescence,” says Gill. “The long-term goal of my lab is to quantify these neurobiological changes in the brain, so that we can ultimately develop better treatments for drug addiction.”
Additional North Central students chosen to present at NCUR are Mirachelle Anselmo ’16, AnnMarie Bachmann ’16, Lauren Baltas ’16, Grace Barksdale ’17, Joshua Beck ’17, Kaytlyn Becker ’16, Joanna Bodigor ’16, Alicia Casacchia ’17, Lauren Denler ’16, Katherine Dickson ’16, Lisa Dieckman ’16, Michele Dobbs ’16, Molly Durava ’16, Eric Duthie ’16, Emma Fox ’16, Seth Gierhart ’16, Meaghan Green ’16, Thomas Halverson ’17, Amanda Heidorn ’16, Jessica Krempp ’16 , Kelleigh Kuehl ’16, Hayley Falzarano ’16, Erin Smigla ’18, Emily Kendall ’16, Riane Wrobleski ’18, Helen Majer ’16, Alexis Marsh ’16, Grace Morris ’16, Josephine Mueller ’17, William Noland ’16, Jessica Panzica ’16, Jacquelyn Pfaff ’16, Carina Rodelo ’16, Melissa Runnion ’16, Jack Ryan ’16, Adam Sehr ’16, Kimberly Smaga ’16, Kaitlyn Sparkman ’16, Sarah Vanderheyden ’16, Kelly Vazquez ’16, Anna Wegrzyn ’16, Elizabeth Weiner, Madeline Wierzal ’16.