Student Explores Neurobiology at NIH

Brittany Ross

CONWAY, Ark. (April 2, 2013) - Hendrix senior Brittany Ross is interning as a research assistant this semester in the Section of Nervous System Development and Plasticity at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (part of the National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, Md.

Ross, an interdisciplinary neuroscience major, was drawn to NIH for the opportunity to work in a large research setting.

"I specifically wanted to work at NIH because here I've been exposed to state-of-the-art equipment and I wanted to confirm that I am ready to dedicate my life to research, especially in a large institute setting such as NIH," she said.

"I assist an ongoing project studying the cellular interaction between two cell types in the nervous system. The lab has determined that blocking a release of transmitters from one cell type negatively affects the activity of adjacent neurons, which may contribute to the understanding of certain diseases pertaining to these cells, as well as an understanding of nervous system plasticity in general" Ross said. "In the lab I dissect adult mouse brains, optic nerve and retina, and then I stain the tissue to look at particular cells. I characterize the morphology of certain cells in mice, and I examine the overall expression of a gene in the retina, the images of which will be added to the supplemental figures of the final published paper."

At NIH, Ross performs experiments similar to her lab work at Hendrix, but she is given more independence to design experiments and tweak the protocols if problems arise.

"Mainly I have learned to troubleshoot because, more often than not, science is full of failures and it takes persistence to make an experiment work the way you want," she said. "I have also learned that collaboration is key in science. I frequently depend on others for their know-how, equipment, materials, or all of the above, knowing that they can come to me for things as well."

Ross is currently applying to a full-time salaried two-year post-baccalaureate program at NIH in a more clinical lab.

"I originally planned to attend graduate school afterwards, but I realized here that you can do research just as well with an M.D., and for clinical research an M.D. may actually be preferable. So I have decided to go to medical school to gain a full understanding of the body as we currently know it before I spend a lifetime studying it."

While working as a researcher, she may also pursue a master's degree in clinical research geared towards physicians who want to do research.

"Even if I see patients, my main focus will always be research," she said.

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. For the fifth consecutive year, Hendrix was named one of the country's "Up and Coming" liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country's best 377 colleges, the latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges, Forbes magazine's annual list of America's Top 650 Colleges, and the 2013 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.