St. Norbert College
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Name: Ashley L. Ash
Year of Graduation: 2010
Hometown: Sturgeon Bay, WI
Major: Biomedical Science
Minors: Chemistry, Certification in Spanish Language

Name: Dr. David Bailey, Assistant Professor of Biology
Research Specialty: Neuroscience

Glucocorticoids are hormones released by the adrenal cortex in response to stress. In the long-term, glucocorticoid exposure results in neurodegeneration, particularly in the hippocampus, a region important in memory for locations, or "spatial" memory.  Neurodegeneration occurs when the size of contacts between neurons decreases or when neurons atrophy and die. Neurons that are dying show increases in levels of calbindin, a calcium-binding protein found (among other regions) in the central nervous system, and that plays important roles in neural development and adult neuroprotection. The protein is constitutively expressed but increases in concentration following a neurotoxic insult, protecting neurons against apoptosis. Analysis of calbindin can therefore indicate the occurrence of a neurotoxic event.

In my research, I examined calbindin in the brains of birds treated with corticosterone, a type of glucocorticoid mentioned above, and in birds not receiving treatment. The number of neurons containing calbindin was significantly higher in the hippocampus of corticosterone treated birds and differed significantly across subdivisions of the hippocampus; specifically, calbindin immunoreactivity was higher in the dorsolateral subdivision in corticosterone-treated birds. The questions now are these: if the increased expression of calbindin is reflective of corticosterone-induced cell death, will there be more apoptotic cells in the hippocampus in birds treated with corticosterone? Also, is an increased amount of cell death in the hippocampus reflected in memory deficits? I am working on beginning to answers these questions in my continued work in Dr. Bailey's lab.

In preparing for graduate school, I knew it was important to be active in research at the undergraduate level. I had Dr. Bailey as a professor and was intrigued by his area of research - neuroscience. Last year, I enrolled in Directed Research and had the opportunity to work on my own project under the direction of Dr. Bailey. Academically, the experience was incredibly rewarding and lead to my desire to continue research this year. To me, the research I do is incredibly interesting, given the homologies between birds and mammals, specifically in relation to memory function and the role of the hippocampus. My research allows further examination of intracellular mechanisms important to countering neurotoxic events that affect humans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which long-term stress kills cells of the hippocampus. If the mechanism for neurodegeneration is the same in birds and humans, perhaps this research could aid in further work that discovers therapeutic methods to counter the harmful effects of stress.

This research experience has had a large impact on my appreciation of science and the wide range of topics that a major in biology entails. Dr. Bailey has taught me many lab procedures and lessons about the research process that I do not believe I could have learned in the classroom. I have enhanced my understanding of the scientific method, which is something I will utilize in the future, as I plan to attend graduate school for physical therapy. In addition, learning how to analyze and present data are two skills that will forever benefit me, as I pursue a career in a competitive field that is dynamic due to new scientific findings on treatments and drug therapies that are used in physical therapy.

My undergraduate research experience has been incredibly rewarding. In the scientific sense, I have learned many skills and techniques central to the field of neuroscience. In addition, I have become educated about numerous mechanisms of neuroprotection and neurodegeneration. My involvement in research has also helped me develop personally as well. I have had the opportunity to present at the Celebration of Student/Faculty Collaboration at SNC, as well as at the Society for Neuroscience Convention in Chicago this past October. This experience is one I will never forget. I presented the work indicated above in a poster at a conference (attended by 30,000 other scientists) and listened to lectures given by professionals whose work has had profound implications in the field (including a Nobel Prize winner). Finally, Dr. Bailey and I are currently authoring my work for publication in a scientific journal.  To achieve these sorts of things is, in my eyes, a tremendous accomplishment, and emphasizes the value of research experience at SNC.

Professor David Bailey
Ashley and I began work on this collaborative project in the fall of 2009. While my primary interest in this research is how memory is affected in response to stress, the project was a great fit for Ashley, given her interest in a career in physical therapy, in the context of the mechanisms through which cells of the body may be equipped to prevent permanent damage. Ashley presented this work at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in Chicago in October of 2009, a conference attended by more than 30,000 neuroscientists from around the world, and she is currently finishing work on a manuscript to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The project continues with the aid of a 2009 Student-Faculty Development Endowment Fund Award from the Office of Faculty Development as we further examine the cellular and behavioral consequences of glucocorticoid treatment.
Gretchen Panzer
Ashley L. Ash

“This experience is one I will never forget. To achieve these sorts of things is, in my eyes, a tremendous accomplishment, and emphasizes the value of research experience at SNC.”

St. Norbert Collaborative

Phone: (920) 403-3147
Fax: (920) 403-4086

St. Norbert College • 100 Grant Street • De Pere, WI 54115-2099 • 920-337-3181