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Neuroscience major studies stroke treatment during summer research program

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Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2023

A Westminster College junior spent her summer months researching stroke treatments as part of a 10-week Neurodegenerative Undergraduate Research Experience (NURE) residency program at Duquesne University. 

Ella Hildebrand, a neuroscience major and biology minor from Greenville, Pa., researched “Delivery of Mitochondria-Containing Extracellular Vesicles to the Blood-Brain Barrier for the Treatment of Ischemic Strokes” under the guidance of Dr. Devika Manickam, associate professor in the Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Duquesne University School of Pharmacy, and Duquesne University Ph.D. student Kandarp Dave.

Working in Manickam’s biotherapeutics delivery lab, Hildebrand focused on studying a potential non-pharmacological treatment for strokes, as current stroke treatments do not address the mitochondrial dysfunction that occurs in the brain following a stroke.

The treatment the team was developing aimed to reduce mitochondrial dysfunction and decrease cell death following a stroke. They examined the uptake of mitochondria in cells treated with a medium that simulated a stroke.

As a NURE Fellow, Hildebrand had the opportunity to learn and work with seasoned faculty and researchers. She received free housing, a stipend and attended ethics courses and professional development workshops. Funding for the NURE program was provided by the National Institutes of Health NINDS R25 Summer Research Experience Grant.

At the end of the NURE program, which ran from May 22 to July 28, Hildebrand presented her research poster at Duquesne University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“Through this experience, I learned how to conduct research at a higher level,” said Hildebrand. “The NURE program provided a lot of great insight regarding presenting research at conferences, writing scientific papers and applying to graduate programs. This experience solidified my passion for conducting research and pursuing a career in science.”

Hildebrand said that presenting at Westminster College’s Undergraduate Research and Arts Celebration (URAC) her sophomore year and working with Dr. Deanne Buffalari, associate professor of psychology and chair of the neuroscience program at Westminster, prepared her well for this experience.

“Dr. Buffalari helped me immensely, not just with my application, but also by helping me get my foot in the door and start conducting research at a very early point in my undergraduate education,” said Hildebrand.

For more information about Westminster’s neuroscience program, click here.

Hildebrand presenting at Duquesne University's Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium in July.