Stillman Professor Anathbandhu Chaudhuri Inspires Student Researchers
Tuscaloosa, Ala. (November 22, 2013) — Stillman College senior Courtney Cunningham from Birmingham, Alabama was recognized for her “outstanding presentation” at the 2013 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Nashville, Tennessee. Cunningham, who won an ABRCMS Best Poster Award for her research on neurological disorders, also received a FASEB MARC full travel award to present her findings at the conference, which was held November 13-16, 2013.
Over 1,640 students presented science posters, discussed their research projects, and were interviewed by judges at the conference. Stillman seniors Brittany Holloman, who is studying stress response and aging, and Jared Thompson, who is studying the hormone Adipokinetic and stress response, were granted partial travel awards to present their research at the conference.
ABRCMS, which is designed to develop future scientific leaders, is among the nation’s most competitive science conferences. “This is a very prestigious conference, and the competition is fierce. Not only because of the large number of competitors, but because many of the students who present at this conference are conducting their research at the nation’s top medical centers. This makes Courtney’s accomplishment all the more noteworthy,” stated Dr. Anathbandhu Chaudhuri, Stillman’s assistant professor of anatomy and physiology, who noticed Cunningham’s potential last summer and encouraged her to begin conducting research in his lab.
Her project was entitled the Effect of Inhibition of VMAT (Vesicular monoamine transporter) by reserpine on mobility of dopamine mutants of Drosophila melanogaster: A model system to study the neurological disorders.
In her abstract, she noted that abnormality in the functions of Dopamine, a chemical secreted from the neurons in the brain, is associated with several clinical neuropsychiatric disorders including drug addiction, mood disorders, social phobia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sleep disorders, as well as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Her study focused primarily on a transporter protein called VMAT (Vesicular monoamine transporter), which is essential for normal dopamine function. Many psychostimulant drugs such as Amphetamine, Methamphetamine (METH), Cocaine, and Ecstasy are known to interact with this transporter protein (VMAT).
“In this study, the small fruit fly, Drosophila, was used to understand the functions of VMAT. The Dopamine mutant flies were treated with Reserpine (an inhibitor of VMAT), commonly used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia,” Cunningham noted. “We hypothesize that Dopamine homeostasis is essential to restore the normal neuronal function, and VMAT could be an important therapeutic target for clinical neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr. Chaudhuri, our new Biology Professor, started his research lab this summer at Stillman and we are actively working with him.”
Her project was conducted in collaboration with Drs. Anathbandhu Chaudhuri and Mary Jane Krotzer at Stillman; Drs. Rosianna Gray and Janis O'Donnell at the University of Alabama Department of Biological Sciences; and Dr. Natraj Krishnan at the Mississippi State University, Department of Biochemistry.
Cunningham, who said that she felt “humbled” to be recognized for her work, was also recently named Stillman’s top biology major and received the Golden Lab Coat award in recognition of this honor.
“I wasn’t expecting all of these things to happen to me. I began doing my research project this summer, and I continued working after fall classes began. It has been challenging to juggle schoolwork, research and other activities, but it’s very exciting,” said Cunningham, who is interested in pursuing a career in nursing, but also plans to continue conducting research.