/ Neuroscience

Research

Our program strongly promotes discovery and inquiry-based learning through our research projects in courses and in faculty research labs.

Neuroscience may be an undergraduate minor, but you will learn to research like a graduate student. All three core classes in the neuroscience program incorporate research and lab work. In addition, many of the flagged courses offered through our sister departments as part of the program emphasize research related to biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, nursing, philosophy and psychology.

In the capstone course, students are expected to develop their own research hypotheses, write a scientific research proposal, complete the experiments and report their results both orally and in writing. You’ll work on a semester-long project focused on identifying risk factors for the development of mood disorders. Students present these research projects at the annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance at Hope College, national scientific conferences like the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting and regional meetings such as the Midwestern Psychology Association annual meeting. Portions of these papers have also been submitted for publication with students as co-authors.

Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Opportunities

All of our faculty are actively pursuing research in their fields and much of it is directly related to neuroscience. Topics include:

Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr. Root Luna
Cognitive science research chartDr. Root Luna and her students explore the connections among emotion, virtues (like forgiveness, gratitude, hope and humility), mental health and physiology. Specifically, Dr. Root Luna's work centers on the peripheral nervous system, examining facial muscles, sweat, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and heart rate variability (a measure of parasympathetic nervous system engagement). In the lab, participants are often asked to engage in imagery paradigms, cognitive tasks or writing while their physiology is monitored. Overall, this work is designed to bring clarity to the question of how our emotions and character influence both our mental health and physiological functioning.

Also see research by Dr. Griffin in cellular/molecular neuroscience below.

Systems/Behavorial Neuroscience

Dr. Gall

Systems/behavioral neuroscience illustrationDr. Gall and his students are seeking to understand the neural mechanisms and functions of sleep and circadian rhythms. Dr. Gall is especially interested in species-differences in the brain between animals that are diurnal (day-active) and those that are nocturnal (night-active), and how these differences emerge over development. Currently, Dr. Gall and his students are examining the mechanisms responsible for supporting a diurnal profile of activity in species like our own by performing brain lesions in a diurnal species, the Nile grass rat.

Dr. Fraley

Systems/behavioral neuroscience illustrationIn this lab, Dr. Fraley (a behavioral neuroendocrinologist by training) and his students investigate environmental impacts on hypothalamic pathways that regulate growth, feeding and reproduction. They utilize techniques to investigate biological changes at the behavioral, histological and molecular levels. Although their research involves basic neurobiology, they also utilize these tools to investigate environmental impacts on animal welfare and well-being in the poultry industry. They utilize behavioral, histological and molecular techniques to determine if changes in lighting systems, feed and water systems or management have an impact on poultry in a commercial setting. They primarily focus on the Pekin duck for both basic and translational research.

Dr. Chase and Dr. Barney

Systems/behavioral neuroscience illustrationBipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders affect millions of people worldwide and can have devastating effects on relationships and the quality of life. Animal models of psychiatric disorders are needed in order to learn more about possible causes of these problems and test novel therapies. The laboratories of Dr. Chase and Dr. Barney are collaborating on the development of a new animal model of bipolar disorder using rats treated soon after birth with either the neurotoxin homocysteic acid or precursors of homocysteic acid. Following weaning and further growth, the rats are tested for behavioral, physiological and neurochemical alterations that may be similar to those seen in bipolar disorder.


Cellular/Molecular Neuroscience

Dr. Griffin
 

Cellular and molecular neuroscience illustrationDr. Griffin and his students investigate how microbes interact with the nervous system. In particular, they are looking at the mechanisms by which neuropeptides affect the viability and replication of bacteria and viruses. The Griffin lab is also researching how microbial infections may cause cognitive dysfunction.

Dr. Chase

Cellular and molecular neuroscience illustrationDr. Chase and her students strive to understand the regulation of an important membrane transporter that is highly expressed in astrocytes in the brain. This transporter plays an important role in maintaining the oxidative health of the astrocytes and the synaptic levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Dysregulation of the transporter can lead to excessive glutamate release, excitotoxic cell death and/or development of oxidative stress. They have shown that oxidants acutely regulate the transporter’s activity by triggering its rapid redistribution from intracellular compartments to the cell surface. Their goal is to investigate the specific molecular mechanisms which allow for acute regulation of the transporter and identify key proteins which regulate transporter trafficking. As such, their work may provide direction for future studies aimed at pharmacological manipulation of transporter activity for therapeutic benefit.

Also see research by Dr. Fraley, Dr. Chase and Dr. Barney in cellular/molecular neuroscience above.

Applied neuroscience

Dr. Goris
Dr. Goris has established a nurse-led molecular genetics laboratory at Hope College, and her research is focused on the relationship between neuropsychiatric symptoms and genetics in people with Alzheimer's Disease. She is working with students to explore various genes hypothesized to be involved in the biologic pathway underlying apathy, with genetic variation playing a significant role in differential apathy symptoms, in an effort to contribute to decreasing apathy and improving quality of life among individuals with Alzheimer's Disease suffering from neuropsychiatric symptoms.
Dr. Polasek
Applied neuroscience research imageDr. Polasek and her students are working toward designing a non-invasive, home-based therapy for treating phantom limb pain using electrical stimulation. In particular, better methods to activate nerves from the surface of the skin are being developed. Computer models are used to make initial predictions of effective electrode locations that are then tested on people with and without amputated limbs.

If a particular topic interests you, talk to your professor about ways to participate. There are typically opportunities every year for students to collaborate with faculty on original research.