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CURCA Funds Students’ Research into the Heart and Brain

Published January 27, 2012

UB’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) has awarded funding to two students conducting research in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

Elucidating the Function of Sodium Channels in the Heart

Jennifer Huber, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, is studying the expression of epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) subunits in the heart with Mouhamed S. Awayda, PhD.

Huber’s previous research demonstrated expression of this epithelial protein in non-epithelial heart tissue for the first time. She also found enrichment of these subunits in the atria, which produces atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), a hormone responsible for increasing the kidney’s excretion of sodium in response to blood pressure and volume expansion.

Based on these findings, Huber will now test whether increased ENaC expression in atrial cells serves to integrate volume and osmotic sensing in the heart. She and Awayda will use osmotic minipumps to elevate subjects’ ANP levels and test whether they then exhibit increased ENaC expression and sodium sensing. They will also test whether inducing volume expansion decreases ENaC expression. They expect these results to provide novel insight on ENaC’s function in the heart.

Linking Neuroanatomy to Hearing Disorders

Nadav Weinstock, a senior completing a biology major, will investigate the neurochemical and neuroanatomical structure of the human dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) using tissue from the Witelson Normal Brain collection available in the laboratory of his mentor, Joan S. Baizer, PhD. Baizer’s lab focuses on the comparative neuroanatomy of the cerebellum and brainstem. Previous projects have compared structures such as the vestibular brainstem, the inferior olivary nucleus and the dentate nucleus of the cerebellum.

The DCN is a major relay for the brain’s auditory pathways, and research with animal models has shown that it may play a key role in the integration of auditory and somatosensory signals that underlies tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and the perception of phantom sounds. The human DCN has not been studied as extensively, and existing data suggests that its organization may differ significantly from nonhuman subjects.

Weinstock’s project, part of his senior thesis, will characterize different neuronal types in the human DCN. He will use immunohistochemistry and a specially-purchased antibody that has been shown to mark somatosensory input fibers in animal tissue.

A member of UB’s Advanced Honors Program, Weinstock has strong interests in both research and medicine. He is currently applying to MD/PhD programs.

$500 Awards Support Undergraduate Research

CURCA offers $500 awards to pay for supplies, conference fees or other related needs for undergraduate research and creative activities.

The center accepts applications for awards on a rolling basis throughout the year. For consideration, the student’s project must be advertised on the CURCA website. Research mentors working with undergraduates are encouraged to submit research opportunity postings online.