Through the Summer Research Fellowship Program at Northeast Ohio Medical University, medicine or pharmacy students gain intensive training in research procedures by working (often side by side) with research mentors. In addition to these students, who are paid a stipend by NEOMED, other NEOMED students found funding on their own for summer 2019 internships or programs elsewhere in Ohio, as well as at institutions including the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Harvard University.
The Summer Research Fellowship Program culminates each year in an event called Poster Day. Below is a reflection by third-year College of Pharmacy student Alyssa McIntire on her summer experience.
This past summer, I was a student research fellow through NEOMED’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) with my mentor Sheila Fleming, Ph.D., in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. The Fleming Lab primarily studies neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
For this fellowship, I focused on how aging and disease can affect cognition. My project included establishing and optimizing a protocol for the Barnes Maze, to be included in our battery of cognitive tests we routinely use. The Barnes Maze evaluates learning and spatial memory in rodents; therefore, it is helpful in characterizing various rodent models of neurodegenerative disease.
I worked with a mouse model from the lab of William Chilian, Ph.D., in the Department of Integrated Medical Sciences. This model mimics cardiovascular disease and poor blood circulation. Because of the known link between vascular diseases and cognitive impairments, we anticipated that mutant mice would have deficits in learning and memory in the Barnes Maze due to their poor vascularization.
To establish and optimize the Barnes Maze protocol for our lab’s use, I reviewed protocols from other labs’ published work. Anticipating all the factors that may influence the Barnes Maze performance was challenging; differences in the disease model and its progression, age, sex, the time of day the test was performed, the amount of handling the animals had been exposed to, anxiety-like behavior, learning in the mice, and the handlers themselves all needed to be accounted for in this test to produce consistent results that mirrored other studies’ data.
I have made three revisions to the protocol to optimize the test and it has been implemented into Dr. Fleming’s standard set of behavior tests.
My experience this summer was outstanding. I developed skills through this fellowship that I will take with me throughout my pharmacy career. The opportunity to lead this project, to create a new test from the ground up for our lab and to teach my associates how to perform the protocol and what I learned from the Barnes Maze was invaluable to me. I would highly recommend that students with any interest in research participate in this program.
— Alyssa McIntire, a third-year College of Pharmacy student, contributed this reflection.