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Brain Study Boost

July 6, 2004

Mary Ann Travis
tulanian@tulane.edu
Michael DeMocker

Remember the fried egg television commercial? This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs. People's brains are actually very little like sizzling eggs, whether people are zonked on hallucinogenic drugs or not. Neuroscience gives us the verifiable facts about how brains really work, what they regulate in the human body and why their intricate structures have developed the way they have.

tulsp04_wall4Neuroscience has been an undergraduate major field of study and bachelor of science degree program at Tulane for four years. It's the fastest-growing major and now has the fourth-largest number of majors.

"We look at the mechanisms in the brain that regulate behavior," says Gary Dohanich, professor of psychology and co-director of the undergraduate neuroscience program. Neuroscientists also investigate how neurons and brain cells function.

Neuroscience draws across the disciplines, Dohanich adds. "Bio-logy, psychology, chemistry, physics--all the basic sciences feed into it." Eventually, the knowledge that neuroscientists gain is applied in fields such as neurology and psychiatry.

Dohanich, Richard Harlan, professor of structural and cellular biology, and David Hurley, associate professor of cell and molecular biology, are the principal investigators on a round-four Wall Fund grant for $200,000 for enhancements to neuroscience undergraduate education.

With the grant money, they are setting up a new laboratory to provide more extensive laboratory experience for students.

"We try to place our students in laboratories where research is going on," says Dohanich. "With 125 majors, we need more lab opportunities."

The investigators are purchasing equipment to use in the teaching lab, where students will become acquainted with the methodology of research. The lab will be open to other majors and to graduate students, too. The first class in the new lab located in Stern Hall on the uptown campus will be offered in the fall, says Dohanich.

The course, in which students will be exposed to methods available in neuroscience for studying the brain and nervous system, will be team-taught by faculty members from liberal arts and sciences departments and from the School of Medicine. It's not often that medical school professors teach undergraduates. But at Tulane, they do. "The faculty downtown has gotten more and more involved with our undergraduate program," says Dohanich.

Harlan is a School of Medicine faculty member. He and other faculty members from the medical school on the downtown campus come to the uptown campus to lecture, and they also have undergraduates working in their labs. These students acquire valuable experience in basic science. During the grant decision-making process, the Wall Fund committee asked evaluators from other universities, such as Johns Hop-kins and Boston College, to give feedback about the neuroscience teaching laboratory proposal.

The outside experts all gave positive reviews and indicated that the Tulane program offered an unmatched experience for undergraduates, says Dohanich. The Wall Fund grant for the new lab fits well with the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience--and the Tulane program, says Dohanich. "Our program is very inter-campus. Uptown and downtown really collaborate and cooperate. It's a unique feature of ours."


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