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Medical journal publishes Westminster neuroscience grads’ research

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Posted on Tuesday, July 12, 2022

An academic research paper by two Westminster College neuroscience graduates was published in May in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Ashley Barker ’19 and Haley Moore ’21 co-authored “Sex Differences in Nicotine Enhancement of Conditioned Place Avoidance in Male and Female Rats” as a result of their undergraduate research projects at Westminster. Each explored how nicotine, the primary addictive component of cigarettes, interacts with other stimuli to potentially support addiction causes.

Barker, who initiated the project that played off published work by Dr. Deanne Buffalari, associate professor of neuroscience and chair of the psychology department, investigated whether nicotine supports behavior driven by other stimuli, and whether it does so equally for males and females as tested on rats.

Researchers have long been puzzled over how nicotine, which is only mildly rewarding by many definitions, supports such widespread use.

“One of the most interesting characteristics of nicotine is not what it does in isolation, but how it might be interacting with all sorts of other things in the environment—the coffee you are drinking, the people you have a smoke with,” said Buffalari.

Moore, who was a sophomore at the start of the research process, continued the project after Barker graduated.

“Dr. B and Ashley were awesome to collaborate with,” said Moore. “We spent so much time setting up this perfect schedule for research and it could all get blown out the window, so you end up learning more from what went wrong rather than what went right.”

Post-graduation, Barker and Moore have continued their education. Barker, originally from Warren, Pa., attended Loyola University Chicago and is currently a registered nurse. She hopes to obtain her Ph.D. in nursing science to do long-term clinical research.

Moore, a native of Greensburg, Pa., graduated from Westminster summa cum laude and is currently enrolled in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program at Mercyhurst University.

To read more about their research, click on the published article here.

Pictured above are Moore, left, and Barker