Mélise Edwards awarded HHMI Gilliam fellowship

Congratulations to Mélise Edwards and Agnès Lacreuse on being awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship! This award is given to outstanding graduate students and their advisers with the goal of supporting students from underrepresented groups in their pursuit in preparing for leadership roles in scientific fields, particularly with a focus on advancing diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

Only 50 pairs of students and their advisers were selected for the 2021 Gilliam Fellowship program. They span 38 academic institutions across the country with research ranging from life sciences to biomed.

Through this Fellowship Mélise and Professor Lacreuse have leadership and research training opportunities, with a focus on inclusion and cultural awareness with monthly online training sessions, two in-person workshops in Maryland, and an annual meeting of all Fellows and their advisers. They will also receive $50,000 per year up to 3 years. To be eligible for the program, Fellows must be enrolled in their 2nd or 3rd year of a PhD program in biomedical or life sciences, be from a racial, ethnic or other underrepresented group, and demonstrate a commitment to furthering inclusion and diversity in the field of science.

The NSB community is proud and excited and extends a group congratulations to both Mélise and Agnès!


ChangHui Pak and Gerry Downes awarded the Armstrong Fund for Science

The Armstrong Fund for Science was established in 2006 by benefactors John and Elizabeth Armstrong to help research projects gain more ground before they are eligible for traditional grants. The 2021 award was given to Biology’s Gerald Downes, and MCB’s ChangHui Pak for their collaborative research into the disruption of brain development by the mutation of a gene, TBCK. Mutations of the gene cause a rare condition called TBCK Syndrome. Professors Pak and Downes will receive funding of $40,000 for 2 years for the preliminary research needed to prepare for a larger research project.

ChangHui and Gerry hope to learn more about how the mutations in the TBCK gene cause the debilitating syndrome which leads to a high rate of mortality in children and adolescents with progressive loss of muscle tone, intellectual disability, and drug-resistant epilepsy among some of the symptoms. The collaboration will involve the zebrafish that the Downes Lab has already engineered with TBCK syndrome. Pak will be using pluripotent stem cells that will be engineered with the mutations specific to TBCK syndrome, grow them into neurons and compare the mutated cells with healthy cells. They are both excited to work together learning from each model.

The entire neuroscience community extends an enthusiastic congratulations and will look forward to seeing the progress!


UMass Neurosciences Publications – May 2021

Qiangfei Xia

This month’s featured researcher is Qiangfei Xia, who is a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Qiangfei works in the area of nanoelectronics. His research group is developing energy-efficient hardware systems for machine intelligence, security, sensing and communication. He is an author on a paper that recently appeared in Frontiers in Nanotechnology, “Engineering Tunneling Selector to Achieve High Non-linearity for 1S1R Integration“, which describes technology to increase the density-packing of memristors, which can act like artificial synapses.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared on line in May. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Director’s Channel – May 2021

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

As the semester draws to a close, we are starting to think about a non-virtual world again. Over half the population of Massachusetts has now received at least one dose of the vaccine. UMass will be requiring all students to be vaccinated before returning in the fall when classes will once again be face-to-face. I am looking forward to seeing students and colleagues again. However, I hope that the “normal” that we return to after the pandemic is a more enlightened one than the one we had before.

It has been a very difficult year with the pandemic, the insurrection at the Capitol, and the public murder of George Floyd and other people of color. The continued trauma from structural racism led to a groundswell of activism this year. Here at UMass, NSB student Wayne Barnaby helped lead that activism, by initiating a petition to the administration. He was recognized for his leadership by a College Award for Excellence. NSB faculty member Karine Fénelon was also recognized with this award for the leadership role that she played this year in the racial reckoning on campus. I wish that they did not need to devote energy to this issue; I wish that we could be celebrating their science instead of their activism. But, this important work is what will lead us to a new, more enlightened “normal”.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – April 2021

This month’s featured researcher is Kirby Deater-Deckard. Kirby is a Professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. He is also the Graduate Program Director for the Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program. He runs the Individual Differences in Development Lab, which conducts research on facets of human development spanning cognition, emotion, and behavior, emphasizing the interaction of biological and environmental factors. He is co-author on a paper that appeared in Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience entitled, “Maltreatment and brain development: The effects of abuse and neglect on longitudinal trajectories of neural activation during risk processing and cognitive control”.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared on line in April. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Karine Fénelon and Wayne Barnaby awarded CNS Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

Congratulations to Karine Fénelon, NSB faculty member and Assistant Professor in the Biology department, and Wayne Barnaby, NSB PhD student, for each winning an Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion award from the College of Natural Sciences. Both demonstrated leadership in anti-racism actions and have put a personal face on systemic problems both here at UMass and more generally in the nation.

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Director’s Channel – April 2021

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

It’s been just over a year now since our world went virtual. Zoom meetings, online teaching, COVID-19 testing have all become routine. Now that people are starting to be vaccinated, I’m hopeful that by fall we can resume in-person instruction, that labs can operate at full capacity, and that conferences can be held in person. Although, it’s been great to hear talks from people all around the world, we have missed out on the casual interactions, the serendipitous discussions that lead to different ways of thinking. In fact, all of the major breaks in my career have come from interactions at conferences.

Last year, we canceled the annual UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences conference because of the campus shutdown. We decided not to hold a virtual conference this year because personal interactions are the heart of such a local meeting. I’m confident that we will resume the tradition in the spring of 2022 when it is safe to meet in person again.

In the meantime, we continue our great lineup of virtual neuroscience speakers in April including a Distinguished Lecture by Lynn Nadel. His book, co-authored with Nobel laureate John O’Keefe, “The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map” has framed neuroscience research on learning and memory over the last half century. Although, it would have been nice to meet Dr. Nadel in person, I am still excited to hear his perspective on the progress made in this field.


Neuroscience Research Center Construction Approved

Artist conception of the Alfred E. Newman Neuroscience Research Center

Construction of the Alfred E. Neuman Neuroscience Research Center has been approved. This building employs Open Ergonomic Systems in Science (ANOESIS). The importance of neuroscience on the UMass campus has been recognized by its central location in the current campus pond. After extended negotiation with the wetlands protection agency, it was determined that this 10 story research building would have a more positive effect on the environment than a drainage ditch with fountains. The new building will be funded completely by sales of signature goose down vests made from the displaced Canada geese. The A.E. Neuman NRC will be hiring 7 new faculty forming a research cluster to study the neural basis of gullibility.

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UMass Neurosciences Publications – March 2021

ChangHui Pak

This month’s featured researcher is ChangHui Pak, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Her lab investigates how cell adhesion and cell signaling guides synaptic connectivity in the developing human brain with the ultimate goal of understanding how synaptic dysfunction arising from genetic mutations in synaptic molecules contributes to neuropsychiatric disorders. She has two publications appearing in PubMed this month, one is a review of Neurexin gene variation and the other is a primary research paper in collaboration with Yubing Sun from Mechanical and Industrial Engineering that reports about the development of a new device that creates a local chemical microenvironment for engineering organotypic structures in vitro. This work arose from an IONs seed grant.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared on line in March. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Mélise Edwards awarded Ford Foundation Fellowship

Mélise Edwards

Mélise Edwards, 2nd year student in the Lacreuse lab (co-advised by Courtney Babbitt), received a prestigious Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, which will support 3 years of her PhD research. This competitive fellowship, funded through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, supports individuals “who can demonstrate superior academic achievement, are committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level, show promise of future achievement as scholars and teachers, and are well prepared to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students”.

Her research will compare gene expression in specific brain regions in marmosets treated with an aromatase inhibitor (Letrozole) compared to marmosets treated with a placebo. Aromatase inhibitors are commonly administered to women with estrogen-responsive breast cancers because they suppress estrogen synthesis. Unfortunately, they are also associated with cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances and mood disorders and little is known about the underlying mechanisms.

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