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Introducing the Canyon Neuroscience Center

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By Darien Hall, PhD
Faculty, College of Science, Engineering and Technology

It has already been a productive school year for the Canyon Neuroscience Center (CNC), and it looks like it’s only bound to get busier. With multiple ongoing projects established by faculty within the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, the CNC is one of several Research and Design Programs that give students the opportunity to perform hands-on research. Established in the fall of 2016, the CNC has multiple research foci; Drs. Cynthia Foote, Sherlin Moses and I are investigating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease using a cell culture model; Dr. Anju Dubey has created an app that tracks heart rate variability; and our newest faculty member, Dr. Randy Boyles, is exploring the role of chromatin remodeling in neurodegenerative diseases using fruit flies.

With Dr. Foote acting as our primary investigator and spearheading the project, most of 2016-17 was devoted to ordering lab equipment and arranging the lab space. Students also played a significant role in the development of the lab. With guidance from their faculty mentors, students crafted our current series of experiments by performing literature searches and presenting their findings to their groups. Now that some equipment is in place, we have started training students both individually and in groups so they can pursue their research goals.

The first group skills clinic occurred in mid-September and was directed by Drs. Foote and Moses. Students were taught how to use SDS-PAGE gels, a relatively standard analytic method that separates proteins based upon their weight. Structural and functional changes to proteins are thought to underlie the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, which makes this a valuable research tool.

The second skills clinic focused on two different techniques, occurred at the end of October and was directed by Drs. Foote, Moses and me. The first technique, known as Western Blotting, expanded on the use of SDS-PAGE gels. Proteins separated on the gels are then transferred to a membrane which can then be labeled with specialized markers. This allows the proteins to be visualized, which in turn allows measurement and quantification of any changes. The second technique involved the students learning sterile cell culture methods on human neuroblastoma cells. This cell line will allow us to test how neuron-like cells respond to particular conditions, such as the presence of environmental or chemical stressors thought to be implicated in Alzheimer’s pathology. Western blots can then be used to determine if the experimental conditions resulted in any protein alterations.

These past two clinics, with more scheduled for the spring, were just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting year. In addition to lab work, three posters from the CNC groups were presented at the Student Research Symposium in an effort to showcase our exciting, ongoing projects. The opportunity to obtain practical laboratory experience is invaluable to students in the sciences. This will be not only be beneficial to their future academic endeavors in graduate schools, but also for their career prospects as many private employers expect new applicants to have had some firsthand laboratory experience. I truly enjoy working as mentor for these budding researchers, and I am excited to provide a helping hand in their future.

Grand Canyon University is proud to offer research opportunities and resources to our students to help them prepare for their next step following graduation. Learn more by visiting our website or contacting us using the Request More Information button on this page.

More About Dr. Hall: 

Darien Hall has been an instructor in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology since January 2015. She received her PhD in neuroscience from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then spent the next three years as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Chicago. Tired of the Illinois winters and wanting to be closer to her family, she moved back to Arizona where she grew up.  Following the relocation, she taught as an adjunct professor in the Maricopa Community College system before joining Grand Canyon University. She finds great fulfillment in teaching students the complex mechanisms of the human body and mentoring fledgling scientists.  When not at work, Darien spends the majority of her free time and energy chasing after her small daughter, who is the light of her life.