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2014-2015 Research Fellows

UHL Student Research Fellows Program


 2014-2015 Research Fellows


 Riannon Atwater


 Emma Boxer

Endocannabinoids (eCBs) are a class of bioactive lipids that act as retrograde neuromodulators and have been implicated in a wide variety of behavioral processes, including the regulation of anxiety and aggression. The two principal eCBs are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG); these are catabolized by the enzymes Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and Monoacylglycerol lipase (Mag-L) respectively. A large body of evidence suggests that AEA elicits a strong anxiolytic response during social interaction. Due to the previous lack of drugs specifically targeting Mag-L, much less is known about the effects of 2-AG on social behavior.

In order to address this issue, we plan to inhibit the degradation of 2-AG using the novel NHS carbamate MJN110, which has a high specificity for Mag-L over FAAH compared to the previous generation of Mag-L inhibitors. In the current study, I will analyze the social behavior and neuronal activation of adolescent male Sprague-Dawley rats administered different doses of MJN110. Using the social interaction paradigm, the behaviors I will analyze are self and social grooming and nape attack.

In addition to the behavior analysis, I plan to assess the neuronal activation in the medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC). The mPFC is involved the regulation of anxiety, partially through its direct projections to the amygdala. CB1 receptors are found in the mPFC, mainly on GABAergic and Glutamatergic neurons, but it isn’t clear how 2-AG modulates these PFC-amygdala projections. We will use immunohistochemistry to assay c-Fos expression in parvalbumin+ GABAergic and CaMKII+ Glutamatergic neurons as a result of MJN110. We hope to gain a clearer understanding of how an increase in 2-AG affects the relative excitation and inhibition within the mPFC, and how this is related to anxiety.

 ​- Emma Boxer, Class of 2015


 Yasmine Dakhama

Class​ of 20179

 Jazmin Fontenot

As a UHL Research Fellow, I was able to work on two research projects this past semester. From continuation of summer research, I worked in the Cell and Developmental Biology department at Anschutz Medical Campus with Dr. Nunez-Parra. My project involved using optogenetics, a tool that uses light to stimulate neurons, to activate part of the basal forebrain. I was interested in finding how stimulating the rodent brain would affect their attention and learning. This semester I was able to travel to Washington, D.C. and present the results at the annual Society for Neuroscience as well as the 2014 Neuroscience Retreat in Estes Park.

Now, I am working with Professor Sondra Bland in a behavioral neuroscience lab on campus. Dr. Bland’s lab is focused on the impacts that drugs used in early adolescence have on social behaviors and changes to the brain. My project involves assessing how a new drug, MJN110, affects anxiety and aggression in female rats. I am looking forward to finishing this project and analyzing the results, and I am extremely grateful for my experience as a research fellow.  

- Jazmin Fontenot, Class of 2016​


 Crystal Ho

The research experience has been enjoyable so far! I have attended two art therapy sessions and got to interact with patients as they tried to encompass their thoughts and/or emotions about what they were facing (ex. eating disorders, schizophrenia, etc.) through art. The sessions were very intense and I found a deeper respect and interest in the patients after the sessions. I have done a few sessions of data entry and data matching and will soon enter the electronic medical record to attain additional data after I have finished my EPIC training. I will also get the opportunity to create my own database through a program called REDcap after I have finished compiling and cleaning data on excel. I have already attended a full length training for REDcap. Finally we will have a biostatician come and analyze the data before we can use it for the final manuscript to be published in the Journal of Arts in Psychotherapy. 
​- Crystal Ho, Class of 2016

 Maddi Hunsley

Class​ of 201512

 Nadeen Ibrahim

Class of ​201713

 Rupinder Kaur

I am currently doing research in Dr. Scoot Reed’s lab at the University of Colorado Denver. My research involves lipid coating gold nanoparticles to model a cell membrane and study the effect of membrane curvature on cell signaling. This could eventually lead to therapeutics for cardiovascular disease. Specifically, I am using 1,2-Dilauroyl-sn-glcero-3-phosphocholine (DLPC) as my lipid to coat 19 nm gold nanoparticles in citrate. This a shorter lipid than the one typically used in the lab for experiments so its effect on the gold’s sensitivity is also being observed. I am optimizing the lipid coating process for this specific lipid to produce cyanide stable nanoparticles, using Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance Spectroscopy (LSPR) to monitor changes in the gold’s surface throughout the process. Cyanide stability can be detected with the eye as instability results in a loss of color of the solution, but Ultraviolet-visible (UV-Vis) spectroscopy is being used to quantitatively analyze the stability of the particles. After the DLPC lipid coating process is optimized I will be testing the effect of heat on the lipid bilayer affinity to the gold nanoparticle.

 ​- Rupinder Kaur, Class of 2017


 Jonah Shuman

Cl​ass of 2015​14

 Anushka Tandon

Over the past few months, I have been working for Dr. Sunny Linnebur, a Pharm.D at the University Hospital Seniors Clinic, experiencing firsthand some of the responsibilities I might take on after professional school. The clinic is doing an internal review spanning its activity over the past 5 years, which I am helping compile. By studying and analyzing the visit data of patients eligible for Colorado Access coverage, the department and staff seek to gauge the level of (and improvement in, where applicable) clinical efficiency from both a fiscal and temporal perspective.

Different data points, such as total visits per year and drug discrepancies per visit, for example, are used to assess the money and time spent on treating individual patients (to the variable degrees of successful outcomes, which are also noted). The ultimate goal is to keep the costs of healthcare low (for both patients and insurers) by being more vigilant about patient outcomes ­ prescribing appropriate medicines at the appropriate time and monitoring patient improvement closely also should help cut down on over-prescribing and over-medicating practices.

In order to compile such a review, I have to search the visit notes of all senior citizens enrolled in the Colorado Access program, designing individual portfolios of distinct data points that can later be turned into infographics and compared to baseline values. This requires a lengthy, careful study of health records, coupled with good inference abilities.

The final compilation will ideally show that between 2010 and 2014, patient care has become more cost and time-effective due to vigilance of healthcare professionals.

​- Anushka Tandon, Class of 2015 


 Heidi Yen

In the Johnson lab, the developmental genetics of Drosophila is studied. The lab’s research emphasis includes various components of muscle development.  The gene CG4945 is suggested to have a role in the mesoderm development of Drosophila. Other previous studies have found that expression profiling in embryos have suggested its expression in somatic and pharyngeal muscles. CG4945 has been hypothesized to encode a serine/threonine kinase via sequence homology which functions as intracellular effectors in signal transduction pathways. Serine/threonine kinases transfer phosphate groups from ATP to proteins within a cell. Such phosphorylation events further control activity such as signal transduction. The second messenger system that is once activated is then able to transmit messages and stimulate responses. The specific cellular responses that are able to be stimulated include cell division and target gene transcription which all have amplified downstream effects. Although both the active site and binding site have been predicted, a mutation in CG4945 has not been available to determine the function of the encoded protein.

The analysis of this unknown gene is able to provide new insights to specific roles in overall function and cell processes. My hypothesis is that CG4945 plays an essential role in mesoderm development. A deficiency was generated in the Johnson lab that deleted CG4945 through the recombination of two PiggyBac elements as described in previous research. The first step to testing the hypothesis involving CG4945’s role in myogenesis was to phenotypically analyze embryos and larvae homozygous in the deficiency. The created deficiency, Df(2R)CG4945, was utilized and adult drosophila that were homozygous control and drosophila that were heterozygous were placed in a cage with an agar plate. The adult flies laid embryos that were collected every 24 hours. Both control embryos and embryos homozygous for the deficiency were collected and analyzed. Many embryos (0-24 hours of age) of each genotype were then live imaged on the confocal microscope. Myosin Heavy Chain (MHC) with Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) was utilized to assay the somatic muscle morphology. The phenotypic analysis was the first in vivo characterization of CG4945 gene function since null mutations in the gene did not previously exist. The assay was repeated with larvae (24-72 hours of age) for both control and mutant genotypes. The live imaging of larvae allowed for the testing of various larvae imaging methods. Although both the embryos and larvae moved, the movement of the larvae required different imaging methodology. After extensive research, methods tested included the use of scalpels and the use of a “stunning” solution.    

Through observation of muscle development and function in Drosophila homozygous with the CG4945 deficiency, it was determined that the CG4945 deficiency caused potential muscle related defects during muscle development. The next steps of the research are to confirm the mutation molecularly and conduct a rescue experiment utilizing a cDNA clone.

 ​- Heidi Yen, Class of 2015


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