|Matthew Donne '07,
Jenna Gopilan '07 and Dan Austin '08 received fellowships based on academic
achievement and enthusiasm for laboratory science.
Students Receive Fellowships to Continue Research on Seizures, Genetics
Three Wesleyan students received research
bioscience fellowships from the Connecticut Business & Industry Association
(CBIA) and the Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE). The
fellowships are designed to increase the number of qualified scientists
interested in pursuing careers in the biosciences.
Molecular biology and biochemistry major Dan Austin '08; neuroscience and
behavior major Jenna Gopilan '07; and biology major Matthew Donne '07 each
received the $5,000 fellowship. The students were selected on the basis of
academic achievement, enthusiasm for laboratory science and interest in
pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or biomedical
Austin and Gopilan work under the direction of Jan Naegele, chair of the
Biology Department, professor of biology and professor of neuroscience and
behavior. Donne works under the direction of Laura Grabel, the Fisk
Professor of Natural Science and professor of biology.
Austin, of Williston, Vt., will examine how a brain-specific enzyme called
the vulnerability of hippocampal neurons injured by seizures. One type of
hippocampal neuron that produces STEP is thought to act as the "brakes" to
prevent excessive excitation and seizures. These STEP-containing neurons are
among the earliest cells to die in seizures, and preventing their death
might be a way to limit seizure activity. He will use cultures made from the
hippocampus of STEP knockout mice or wildtype mice to study whether
STEP-deficient neurons survive excitotoxic damage better than neurons
"It is our hypothesis that the presence or absence of certain proteins
dictates which cells survive in the brain," Austin says. "We hope that this
project may contribute to determining a new therapeutic approach to treat
Gopilan, of Los Angeles, Calif., also aims to understand seizures. With the
CURE grant, she will continue her research on "The Role of Serotonin in
Adult Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus of Wildtype and DNA Repair Deficient
Gopilan will use an epilepsy model in mice to study how neural stem cells
respond to damage caused by epileptic seizures. Previous work in the Naegele
laboratory showed that seizures produce a strong increase in the production
of new neurons in the adult brain, from populations of neural stem cells
located in the hippocampus. The mice she studies lack a DNA repair protein
that may be critical for maintaining neural stem cell populations in the
brain. This research study will help her understand how DNA repair,
serotonin and seizures interact to regulate stem cells. Gopilan will extract
neural stem cells from the hippocampus after seizures and grow them in
tissue culture to define serotonin's effect on the birth and growth of
"This project will be beneficial in recognizing the different factors
involved in repairing the brains of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy,"
Donne, of Litchfield, Conn., hopes to use his fellowship to characterize the
extraembryonic cell types present in human embryonic stem cell embryoid
bodies and to generate outgrowth cultures on different extracellular matrix
substrates that reflect in vivo conditions. To determine the cell types
present, Donne will be using immunohistochemistry and specific cell type
“Such research in the future can be applied to determining the specific
genetic basis for miscarriages and other early fetal or placenta
relationships,” Donne says.
Austin, Gopilan and Donne are three of 10 students from Wesleyan, the
University of Connecticut and the University of New Haven, to receive the
fellowships. Results of their research will be presented at StemCONN 07,
Connecticut’s Stem Cell Research International Symposium, to be held at the
State Capitol on March 27, 2007.
The fellowship program is made possible through a U.S. Department of Labor
H-1B grant being administered by CBIA. The CBIA is Connecticut’s largest
business organization with 10,000 members. CURE is a statewide coalition of
over 100 educational and research institutions, biotechnology and
pharmaceutical companies and other supporting businesses.
Both organizations are dedicated to promoting the growth of research and
science in Connecticut.
"This fellowship program helps Connecticut continue to have the highly
educated workforce needed to remain competitive in bioscience, while keeping
the brightest students in the state," says Judith Resnick, CBIA director of
workforce development and training, and the deputy director of the
association's Education Foundation.
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection