Students from a neurobiology course taught by Professor of Biology James Ryan recently had a scientific paper detailing their research on how to prepare and study neuronal cell cultures published in the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education.
The article, “Using Cultured Mammalian Neurons to Study Cellular Processes and Neurodegeneration: A Suite of Undergraduate Lab Exercises,” was coauthored by Rachel Catlin ’16, Abigail Taylor ’15, Lisa Ditchek ’15, Samantha Burnett ’15, Showkhin Khan ’15, Olivia Todd ’15, Marguerite Adams ’15, Eva Touhey ’15, Andrew Wynkoop ’14 and Ryan. The paper outlines a process for devising cell culture experiments that can be used by educators in teaching-based laboratories.
“The lab is designed to be as real-world and as cutting-edge as possible, and students gain skills and experience vital for them if they go on to graduate or medical school,” Ryan says. “The paper shows the entire process and what has been learned so that faculty from other institutions can use the same modules in their courses.”
The paper describes a four-part process through which students taking Ryan’s BIOL 340 “Neurobiology” course were able to culture rat cells (cortical primary neurons), perform immunohistochemistry to label the subcellular components, examine how free radicals impact the cells and then to devise a way to modify the experiment for their own project. The first part of the process includes reading and discussing scientific papers while learning the basics of setting up the experiments.
Catlin, who hopes to pursue neuroscience research after graduation, also prepared a related independent study project focused on the detrimental effects of free radical attacks on the neuron cytoskeleton, while also observing the protective effects of Vitamin E against the attacks.
“The brain and nervous system have always fascinated me but I think I truly fell in love when I saw my first fluorescently labeled neuron under the microscope. Being able to examine something that was so small but so fundamental to life was so intriguing,” Catlin says. “One of the reasons I chose HWS was that it offers opportunities for students to work directly with professors on such projects. I feel fortunate to have been able to research something so significant and relevant to human life.”
Ditchek, a first-year medical student at SUNY Upstate Medical University, credits the small class sizes and individual attention from faculty as one of the drivers behind having the opportunity to coauthor on an academic paper when she was an undergraduate.
“HWS afforded me the unique opportunity to work closely with great scientists, such as Professor Ryan, to gain exposure to research that has real relevance to the scientific community, not just laboratory exercises,” Ditchek says. “Working on this project allowed me to not just learn about, but to utilize advanced techniques in the laboratory setting.”