Allyson Wolf '15
Why do we reach for ice cream when we're stressed? What causes some people to have severe depression?
Through laboratory research, Allyson Wolf is trying to discover clues to answer questions like these about human psychology.
"The brain is my favorite part of the human body," said the junior behavioral neuroscience major. "Quinnipiac's program offered me the perfect marriage of psychology and biology."
During her sophomore year, Wolf landed a competitive Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at the University of Cincinnati. The researchers wanted to learn more about the neurological workings that might cause a rodent to indulge in a sugary snack after experiencing stress, much like people might treat themselves to chocolate during a bad day. Specifically, Wolf and her team examined the role of cholecystokinin (CCK) interneurons on the basolateral amygdala (BLA) area of the brain.
"I got the chance to slice the brains and, using a microscope, look to see what was happening," said Wolf. "I was doing the same things as the graduate and post-doctoral students who were working there. It was intimidating at first, but it gave me great lab experience."
When she returned to Quinnipiac, Wolf sought out a research opportunity with Adrienne Betz, associate professor of psychology and director of the behavioral neuroscience program. This fall, Wolf collaborated with Betz's molecular and cellular biology graduate student who is researching the molecular mechanism of nuclear factor-kappa-beta (NF-kb) on chronic stress. This model is used to study major depressive disorder (MDD), a debilitating condition in humans. The work will help to develop therapeutic strategies for protecting vulnerable individuals from acquiring MDD.
During the fall semester, Wolf was focused on the behavioral side of the research. In the spring, she and Betz will work together to use Quinnipiac's brand-new cryostat machines to slice the brains and look at the molecular effects on the brain.
"Hopefully, the research will help lead to new therapeutic treatments for depression," said Wolf.
The experience is great preparation for graduate school. After graduation, Wolf is planning to pursue a degree in medicine with a focus on neurology. Her involvement with Quinnipiac's premedical studies program and the Pre-Health Professions Society has also helped steer her career path.
"I want to become a doctor so that I can help alleviate the causes of patient suffering," said Wolf. "I'm also deeply curious about the inner workings of the brain. What's so amazing about research is that you are part of the production of knowledge rather than just consumption. It gives me a better framework for understanding what I learn in my classes and it's challenging to work on something new that isn't published yet."
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