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McNair scholar uses mice to explore epilepsy
Melissa Wylie / Senior Staff Writer
For 10 hours a week, biology senior and McNair Scholar Matthew Mendoza analyzes the aftermath of lab mice’s drug-induced epileptic seizures to gain insight in an unexplored area of neuroprotection.
Mendoza, one of a three-member research team, aims to indentify the function of the cilia, small antenna-like extensions found on every cell. Cilia are known to receive signals throughout the human body, but are undefined, Mendoza said.
A better understanding of the cilia could also help in treating a number of diseases, he said.
“There are a lot of medical implications,” Mendoza said. “As far as epilepsy goes, you can come up with, from a pharmaceutical standpoint, an anticonvulsant medicine that would act directly on the problem.”
Cilia are generally dismissed as useless in the field of neuroscience, but recent findings have shown cilia to be more valuable, Mendoza said.
“There are these things called ciliopathies, malfunctions of the primary cilia,” Mendoza said. “They cause a number of disorders and syndromes, like retinal degeneration, obesity and intellectual difficulties, like dyslexia.”
Mendoza studies the somatostatin receptor within the cilia, which has been linked to brain protection during an epileptic attack, he said.
Somatostatin balances out the high number of positive ions created in the brain by a seizure, Mendoza said.
“Mice that don’t have the somatostatin receptors will undergo more severe seizures,” Medoza said. “We believe that post-epilepsy, cilia plays a large role in development in brain protection.”
The best mammal to represent humans in a laboratory setting is the mouse and two types, regular mice and a genetically modified breed without somatostatin receptors, are used for this testing, Mendoza said.
Mendoza’s team includes Zachary Wright, fellow McNair scholar and biochemistry senior.
“It’s very unique for the McNair to have two people working on the same project,” Mendoza said. “It’s a very interesting dynamic.”
Wright said most neuroscience research is primarily concerned with neurons, but a comprehension of cilia will prove beneficial to other areas of study, such as the medical field.
“I’d like to find a great function of primary cilia,” Wright said. “We hope to contribute just a better understanding.”
Wright said he began working with Mendoza as part of the McNair program last February.
The program is funded by the Department of Education and provides an opportunity for qualifying students to study alongside a faculty mentor, said Rebekah Samaniego, technical editor and program assistant for the McNair Scholars Program.
“We first go through a screening process to make sure they are eligible,” Samaniego said. “The goal has to be a Ph.D.”
Mendoza’s research under the mentorship of biology professor Jannon Fuchs will be funded by the program for a one-year period, but Mendoza said cilia research will be ongoing.
“This is our next step, showing the potential mechanism for how all of this happens,” Mendoza said.