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Neuroscience Students to Attend Conference

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Posted on Monday, March 23, 2009

Three Westminster College neuroscience students will present their senior thesis research and three additional students will attend the Northeast Undergraduate Research Organization for Neuroscience (NEURON) conference April 3-5 at Hunter College in New York.

NEURON is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The conference attracts participants from New York, surrounding states, and New England.

Three Westminster students will each deliver a 15-minute Power Point presentation discussing their research results and the related implications:

Melissa Gnech, a senior neuroscience major in Westminster's Honors Program, is a daughter of Costante and Cynthia Gnech of Harrisburg and a graduate of Central Dauphin High School. She will present "An Investigation of Social Stimulation's Mitigating Effects on Spatial Learning Impairment Caused by Dexamethasone Injection in Rats." The experiment evaluated the extent to which social stimulation "rescues" animals from impairments in neural areas related to stress. Gnech's experiment demonstrated that social stimulation enhances cognitive performance in animals, regardless of the damage to the neural stress system.

Jacob Martinez, a senior neuroscience major, is a son of Dennis and Patricia Martinez of Gibsonia and a graduate of Deer Lakes High School. He will present "The Effects of Clomipramine-Induced Depression on Decision Making in Rats." Clomipramine is a drug used to treat depression. However, when administered to young animals, it impacts the development of areas of the brain that regulate emotion. Martinez' research determined that rats that received clomipramine were unimpaired on simple discriminations, but performed abnormally when making probabilistic discriminations.

David Mills, a senior neuroscience major in Westminster's Honors Program, is a son of Stephen and Janet Mills of Latrobe and a graduate of Greater Latrobe High School. He will present "Investigation of Progesterone as Neuroprotective Agent in a Serial Lesion Paradigm and Its Impact on a Memory Task." Research suggested that progesterone acts to reduce the trauma associated with brain injuries. Mills' study evaluated whether progesterone injections reduce the trauma of increasingly larger brain damage. Preliminary data suggested that the memory deficit induced by the brain damage is reduced by progesterone injection.

The research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Alan Gittis, Westminster professor and chair of the Department of Psychology.

"Participation in this conference is a reflection of Westminster students' ability to engage in high quality undergraduate research that merits scientific attention," Gittis said.

Martinez and Mills were awarded travel/presentation grants from Westminster's Drinko Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to attend the conference.

The Drinko Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning was created to enrich undergraduate education at Westminster through advancing world-class teaching as well as by participating in collaborations that address community and regional needs including strengthening K-12 education. The Undergraduate Research Initiative provides funding for students to conduct research and to present their research at regional and national conferences.

Three additional Westminster students will attend the conference to learn about research conducted by undergraduates at other institutions:

Rachael Hoffman, a sophomore neuroscience major, is a daughter of Walter and Patricia Hoffman of Greenville and a graduate of Reynolds High School.

Jessica Miklosovic, a junior psychology major, is a daughter of Jacki Miklosovic of Eighty Four and a graduate of Jamestown Area High School.

Jennifer Nelson, a sophomore neuroscience major, is a daughter of Eileen and Donald Nelson of New Kensington and a graduate of Burrell High School.

Contact Gittis at (724) 946-7358 or e-mail for additional information.