Two University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia doctoral students were awarded grants from the university’s Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) Graduate Research Grant program.
Hannah Burzynski and Katherine Rentschler have received SPARC funding for their research, which will help them gain experience that helps prepare them to seek national fellowship and grant awards throughout their academic careers.
Burzynski studies with Lawrence Reagan, PhD., professor of pharmacology, physiology, and neuroscience. Her research focuses on the immune challenges that exacerbate neuroinflammatory responses in a rat model of Gulf War Illness. Soldiers who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War returned with multiple unexplained symptoms including chronic pain and headaches, cardiovascular abnormalities, attentional deficits and memory loss. Years later, the causes of these symptoms are still unknown, and roughly 250,000 veterans are affected. The medicine given to soldiers to protect them from possible nerve gas attacks, pyridostigmine bromide (PB), was believed at the time to pose little risk. However, PB is now considered a causative factor of Gulf War Illness and the stress of deployment is known to worsen its adverse effects.
“My research project investigates the neuroinflammatory effects of PB, alone and in combination with stress, to understand the mechanistic basis of Gulf War Illness,” Burzynski says. “Such findings will give insight into the progression of GWI and potential treatments to slow or stop this debilitating disease. ”
Rentschler works under the guidance of Ana Pocivavsek, Ph.D., assistance professor in pharmacology, physiology, and neuroscience. Her research will investigate how the tryptophan metabolite, kynurenic acid, when infused locally into the brain, impacts sleep-wake behavior in freely moving rats.
“Sleep disturbances are very common in patients with schizophrenia, and often precede the onset of psychosis and cognitive disturbances,” she says. “This study will reveal the mechanism by which elevated kynurenic acid levels impair sleep from a clinically translatable perspective.”
Sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the SPARC grant is a merit-based award designed to ignite research and creative excellence across all disciplines at UofSC. The overall objective is to provide support and to encourage outstanding students to pursue exciting research directions during their graduate career. Eligible graduate students can secure up to $5,000 to support their research, creative or other meritorious scholarly project. SPARC funds can be used to pay for salary, supplies and other costs essential to completing and promoting funded projects.
The SPARC program also requires that applicants complete and submit a competitive grant proposal package, providing them with invaluable experience in training in grant proposal development, helping them build the skills and background necessary be competitive in seeking national fellowship awards from federal and private funding sources.