Cedar Crest College Awarded Significant Grant from the National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation awarded a $186,032 grant to Cedar Crest College that will give biology students the opportunity to work with top-of-the-line instrumentation, providing a competitive edge in the marketplace post-graduation. Associate Professor and Director of the Genetic Engineering Program, K. Joy Karnas, Ph.D., and Associate Professor and Director of the Neuroscience Program, Audrey Ettinger, Ph.D., submitted the proposal to provide their students access to the latest experimental technology and to increase opportunities to collaborate with neighboring colleges and universities in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. This is the first grant that Karnas and Ettinger have received from the National Science Foundation.
While much of the grant was used to purchase new instrumentation, the remaining funds will go toward student research. Karnas said that Cedar Crest is unique in that it provides research opportunities for students as early as their freshman year. With this new technology, she said that those opportunities will only increase and better prepare Neuroscience and Genetic Engineering majors for graduate school and their careers.
“Small schools, such as Cedar Crest, don’t usually have this type of instrumentation. At larger universities where they do have these sorts of technologies, they don’t always allow undergraduates to use expensive scientific equipment,” said Karnas. “Those schools focus on graduate students, while we focus on the undergraduates. They’re the ones using the equipment to conduct experiments. We don’t let them simply sit on the sidelines and watch.”
In August, representatives from Nanion Technologies installed the Port-a-Patch, a miniaturized patch clamp system that generates cell physiology data quickly and easily. Cedar Crest students will waste no time in utilizing this new technology, as Karnas and Ettinger already have specific research questions in place that students will begin exploring this fall.
Students will be investigating the role of herbal remedies as neuroprotective agents for neurons in diseases such as stroke (the third leading cause of death in the United States). Students working under the direction of Ettinger will use dissociated neurons from developing chick embryos to chemically simulate stroke, and then attempt to rescue those neurons using an herbal remedy such as Ginkgo biloba extract. They will study the cells using fluorescence microscopy, and use the newly obtained Port-a-Patch instrument to examine ion channels in those cells.
To complement these studies, undergraduates in the laboratory of Karnas, will use cells prepared by the neuroscience students to study differential gene expression using the newly obtained Rotor-Gene Q. By examining the cellular, physiological, and genetic differences in these neurons, they will gain a broader picture of cell death and the effectiveness of the herbal supplements in saving these vital and irreplaceable cells.
Cedar Crest’s Department of Biological Sciences aims to help women and first generation college students develop the skills necessary for success in STEM professions through conducting original research and working in collaborative learning groups. Additionally, the research using the Port-a-Patch and Rotor-Gene instruments is expected to engage students in the process of discovery. The open-ended nature of the research topic allows students to design their own experiments, enhancing their learning experience and allowing input from students with various viewpoints. Participating students will gain skills in experimental design, collaborative research, multiple technology platforms, and data presentation, all crucial for leadership positions in academia and industry.