URI undergraduate spending summer immersed in Alzheimer’s research, neuroscience

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KINGSTON, R.I.– July 20, 2015– When Kelsey Wright of East Greenwich realized she wanted to pursue a career in neuroscience, she was determined to be accepted as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at the University of Rhode Island.

She was not only accepted into the program supported by a major federal grant and offered through the College of Pharmacy, her placement in an Alzheimer’s behavior testing lab this summer was the perfect fit.

“I have been provided with the opportunity to work in a neuroscience lab with prestigious professors and graduate students,” said Wright, a junior studying biochemistry at URI.

The fellowship program is supported by two major federal grants awarded to URI. One, called the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and is directed by Professor Zahir Shaikh at URI’s College Pharmacy. URI has been granted $61 million since 2001 from NIH to expand biomedical research capacity in Rhode Island. The complementary program is the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), funded through a total of $26.75 million in grants from the National Science Foundation.

Not only does the program allow undergraduates to work closely with a leading researcher, it also provides them a stipend so they can focus on their research and not how they generate income during the summer.

Wright is working with Nasser Zawia, dean of the URI graduate school and professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at the College of Pharmacy.

“Kelsey is a doing a great job learning many techniques in our lab this summer,” said Zawia. “Her main project involves testing the memory of aged transgenic mice with an Alzheimer gene that had been exposed to petabyte (Pb), a type of lead, as pups. This project has given Kelsey an opportunity to learn more about neuroscience at URI and Alzheimer’s disease in general.”

Wright will soon be testing the mice’s behaviors every day to see what impact the lead has had on their development.

“I thought it would be a lot more straight forward than it is. It is actually a much more difficult process, one that I wouldn’t have gotten in the classroom alone,” said Wright. “I haven’t even begun working fully with the mice yet because there is so much paperwork involved. All the I’s need to be dotted and T’s crossed, revised, submitted and approved before we can even begin to do anything in the lab.”

Wright hopes she will be able to continue working in the lab and on the project through the school year to see the final results. She will join hundreds of other undergraduate researchers from URI and nearly every other college in the state to present posters outlining their work during URI’s SURF Conference July 31.

URI’s programs in pharmacy, engineering, nursing, biology, chemistry, kinesiology and psychology all offer undergraduate courses in the field of neuroscience. Wright wants to challenge herself further by taking graduate-level neuroscience classes. She said the summer research program has provided her with skills and knowledge that will allow her to work efficiently in graduate coursework, as well as prepare her for her application to neuroscience graduate programs.

“Graduate schools want to see you doing these kinds of things. They want to see you put in hours at a lab and that you are ahead in research. This experience will help me when I am applying for graduate school.”

With already an almost completely full lab notebook, Wright said, “there is no better feeling, I love it! I am learning, gaining many skills and getting to put them into practice. I get to use the INBRE Core Facility lab, work with graduate students, and get to do hands-on research. Time flies when I am in the lab, it’s nice to have the extra hours to devote to this. ”

This release was written by, Rachel Smith, a graduate assistant at the Marketing and Communications Department.

Kelsey Wright is researching a key component in the advance towards the cure of Alzheimer’s in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at URI.

Photo by: Nora Lewis