Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Focusing on fruit flies, seeking insight

Wheaton College students Jeffrey Paer, Michaela SupersonWheaton College students Jeffrey Paer, Michaela SupersonFor most people, fruit flies are just annoying visitors in the kitchen. We don’t usually think about fruit flies learning or fighting over mates, but Michaela Superson ’13, a neuroscience major, and Jeffrey Paer ’15, a biology major, have been looking at these complex behaviors in fruit flies to study brain chemistry and memory.

Superson, who spent the past two semesters working on a senior honors thesis project, was interested in neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay messages between different cells in the brain. In particular, she worked with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.

“My senior thesis provided an excellent introduction to medical research I may conduct in the future,” said Superson, who plans to go to medical school. “It solidified my love of neuroscience and my desire to pursue medicine.”

Wheaton College students Jeffrey Paer, Michaela SupersonHer experimental fruit flies were mutants that produce either too little or too much dopamine. She observed the effects that changes in dopamine can have on courtship behavior, compared to the courtship behavior of “normal” flies. Then, she “rescued” the mutant flies, by adding dopamine or a dopamine inhibitor to restore their dopamine levels to normal.

Paer, who is also interested in a medical career, started out as an assistant for Superson’s thesis project and was soon inspired to start  his own research testing memory in fruit flies. [Read more...]

On the cutting edge of tissue engineering

Tracie Payne Ferreira ’90As a professor in the bioengineering department at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, Tracie Payne Ferreira ’90 has her dream job. Not only does her work help to advance healing medical technology, but she also engages students with her passion for hands-on teaching.

Ferreira’s lab researches tissue engineering. “Basically, we want to be able to take cells and grow new organs to help people, since transplants are hard to come by,” she says. “Skin is also a tissue we can grow using cell therapies that can help people heal faster and recover from chronic wounds that won’t heal. We already can synthesize cartilage, so once we get it figured out in the lab we can get it into trials for patient use.”

She adds, “A big challenge in tissue engineering is this: while you are creating a specific tissue, what do you grow stem cells on? You need something called a scaffold to hold them in place, but at the same time as the cells grow into tissue, the scaffold should dissolve so you don’t have a strange material left in the middle of the new tissue.” [Read more...]

Taking a multicultural approach to therapy

sophomore symposium smile, Marguerite Pierre '11“There are so many things that we as humans overlook, such as having communication skills and the ability to express different emotions,” says Marguerite Pierre ’11. “I have realized that many people need additional support for the attainment of these ‘simple’ skills.”

Pierre, who works as an in-home therapist for the Multicultural Wellness Center in Worcester, Mass., works with families to help them develop the skills they need to be happy and healthy.

At the Multicultural Wellness Center, where she has worked since May 2012, therapists place an important emphasis on a family’s cultural background.

“It is critically important to be understanding of the cultures of the people I am serving,” she says. “There are many therapeutic approaches that aren’t appropriate for clients of certain cultural backgrounds. For example, I have families in which verbalizing emotions isn’t a part of their culture. As a counselor, I have to accommodate and respect the values of my clients.” [Read more...]

A minute with…Lindsay Petrenchik ’13

Lindsay Petrenchik ’13Lindsay Petrenchik, a biochemistry major, has been working with Professor of Biology Barbara Brennessel conducting research on spotted turtles on Cape Cod. The project recently won a grant from the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative. Turtle talk: “Spotted turtles are in rapid decline because their habitats are being fragmented and altered by humans. The objective of our study is to compare the genetic differences between spotted turtle populations on Nantucket Island and on the mainland, which allows us to determine how related the island populations are to the mainland populations. Because island populations are isolated, there is a high degree of inbreeding that can make animals less adaptable or more susceptible to disease. Once we have analyzed the data, we will submit a report to the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. Foundation officials have explained that a comparison between the island and mainland populations could possibly help to determine appropriate conservation and management methods of spotted turtles that have become isolated due to habitat fragmentation.” [Read more...]