Student Research


Students Describe Their Research Projects


Paula Brock

Paula Brock

Research Project

High-dose methamphetamine administration causes persistent neuronal deficits in the dopamine and cognitive systems. Nicotine has been studied for its therapeutic potential in diseases associated with dopaminergic and cognitive deficits such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, respectively. Noteworthy, several epidemiological studies have demonstrated an inverse correlation with tobacco smoking and Parkinson's disease. My studies have demonstrated that long-term, but not acute, nicotine administration to rodents attenuates methamphetamine-induced dopaminergic and cognitive deficits. Chronic nicotine administration induces changes in the expression and function of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. My current studies aim to evaluate in which conditions nicotine is neuroprotective and which subtype of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is mediating this protection. 

Honors & Awards

  1. HHMI-Sponsored University of Utah Med Into Grad Program Scholarship (2012 – 2014)
  2. American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) Pre-Doctoral Fellowship (2012 – 2014)
  3. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Travel Award
  4. University of Utah Graduate School Travel Award  

Sarah Cook

Sarah Cook

Research Project

Acetaminophen (APAP) is a clinically important drug that is widely used for its analgesic and antipyretic properties. Historically, chronic treatment with therapeutic doses has been presumed safe; however, a recent clinical trial showed evidence of hepatotoxicity in healthy adults using the maximum recommended daily dose for two weeks. These results raise particular concerns with respect to the elderly because many older patients rely on APAP to alleviate chronic pain. Additionally, aging is accompanied by changes in liver function, and hepatic drug metabolism is a key mediator of APAP-induced liver injury. We are using a mouse model to investigate the possibility of hepatotoxicity, adaptive responses, and age-dependent outcomes produced by chronic, low-dose APAP treatment.

Honors & Awards

  1. HHMI-Sponsored University of Utah Med Into Grad Program Scholarship (2012 – 2014)
  2. American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) Pre-Doctoral Fellowship (2012 – 2014)

Trevor Fidler

Trevor Fidler

Research Project

Increased thrombosis is observed in metabolic syndrome (MS) and type 2 Diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and contributes to the pathogenesis of diabetic macrovascular complications including myocardial infarction and stroke. Data generated by our lab and others have shown increased platelet activation in diabetic patients and in a murine model of diet-induced obesity (DIO).

In MS and T2DM, the circulating milieu is significantly altered. To understand the consequences of these alterations on platelet metabolism and function, we generated a platelet specific knockout of glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1), using a Cre-floxed allele system. These mice allow us to investigate the contribution of glucose metabolism on platelet function. Interestingly, decreasing GLUT1 expression in platelets leads to altered platelet function underscoring the importance of glucose metabolism in platelet function.

Dipan Patel

Dipan Patel

Research Project

Epilepsy resulting from CNS infection is often refractory to the established antiseizure drugs. The study of infection-induced epilepsy has been limited due to the lack of a good animal model. Recently, we have reported a novel Theiler’s murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV)-induced mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). TMEV infection increases the production of proinflammatory cytokines, especially tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) in the brain. TNF-α has been implicated in altering excitatory and inhibitory balance by acting through TNF receptor 1. Dipan studies the role of TNF-α system in regulating the strength of GABAergic transmission in the dentate gyrus (DG) – a brain region often involved in seizure generation. This project will be helpful to understand the role of TNF-α induced-synaptic scaling in the DG during epileptogenesis. Importantly, it will provide a novel site-specific target for the treatment of infection-induced TLE.

Honors & Awards

  1. Lassonde New Venture Development Center Fellowship (2013 – 2014)
  2. University of Utah Travel Award to attend ISN/ASN Biennial Meeting (2013)
  3. Snowbird Neuroscience Symposium Poster Competition Award (2012)

 Saurabh Gagangras

Saurabh Gagangras

Research Project

Galanin is a neuropeptide that has been considered as an endogenous anticonvulsant. Galanin exerts its physiological effects through three G-protein coupled receptors, namely GalR1, GalR2 and GalR3. However, the contributions of the receptor sub-types to the anticonvulsant activity of the galanin remain largely unknown. This project investigates the roles of GalR1 and GalR2 in the control of CNS excitability and seizures using animal models of epilepsy, with the expression patterns and regulation of galaninergic receptors in the brain. This study utilizes transgenic animals and pharmacological tools to address the question of whether galanin receptors differentially regulate neuronal hyperexcitability. We hope that the results from this investigation will help define the importance and roles of these receptors in epilepsy, as well as reinforce the receptor sub-type-preferring galanin analogs as novel therapeutics in the treatment of epilepsy.

Honors & Awards

  1. University of Utah Travel Award to attend the Society of Neuroscience Annual Meeting (2013)

 Chandni Sheth

Chandni Sheth

Research Project

The habenula complex provides a neural pathway that mediates forebrain control over the midbrain dopaminergic and serotonergic firing. Studies have shown that the lateral habenula drives ventral tegmental area (VTA)-mediated functions in both aversive and appetitive processes. It exercises this control on the VTA through a disynaptic pathway involving the rostromedial tegemental nucleus (RMTg). My research involves identifying the neurocircuitry important for alcohol seeking and reinstatement. Our hypothesis is that both the lateral habenula and RMTg play crucial roles in alcohol seeking and reinstatement.

 Chris Stockman

Chris Stockman

Research Project

Clinically, it is often unclear why some patients respond well to certain medications and others do not. My research focuses on the use of quantitative methods to define the sources of variability in response to several commonly-prescribed medications. Using mathematical models we have characterized the pharmacokinetic (what the body does to the drug) and pharmacodynamic (what the drug does to the body) effects of several classes of drugs in children, pregnant women, and the elderly – all of whom experience dramatic physiologic changes as a consequence of normal maturation and abnormal pathologies. I am actively engaged in developing personalized dosing regimens for several antimicrobial and immunosuppressive agents, with the ultimate goal of improving the safety and effectiveness of these drugs.

Honors & Awards

  1. ID Week Trainee Travel Grant (2013)
  2. American Federation for Medical Research Scholar Award (2013)
  3. Society for Pediatric Research (SPR) Student Research Award (2012)
  4. Western Society for Clinical Investigation’s Travel Award (2012)
  5. Society for Pediatric Research’s Pulmonology and Critical Care Subspecialty Award (2011)

 Erica Larson

Erica Larson

Research Project

Our lab collaborates with the University of Papua New Guinea to isolate and identify therapeutic compounds from Papua New Guinea (PNG) biodiversity. We are particularly interested in compounds with anti-HIV, anti-tuberculosis, and anti-cancer activity. We, recently, began exploring drug-drug interactions that may arise with therapies taken in combination with PNG traditional medicines.

My dissertation project focuses on investigating anti-cancer agents derived from endophytic fungi. Endophytic fungi are highly diverse, mutualistic microbes that live within plants. They are a promising source for drug discovery. Investigation of endophytic fungi for possible anticancer compounds may reveal new therapeutic agents, new cellular targets, and help form new strategies to combat cancer.

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