The Short Term Educational Experiences of Research in Environmental Science for Undergraduates (STEER) Program is a ten week summer internship awarded to undergraduate students interested in environmental health. Through a collaboration between the CEET, the Center for Public Health Initiatives and multiple schools and faculty at Penn, the STEER program provides didactic experiences in environmental and public health, as well as research mentorship opportunities in a variety of areas of environmental exposures and health effects. The COEC will be highlighting the achievements and experiences of 2015 STEER students below.
I am a rising senior at Oberlin College, with an interest in how we as humans affect and are affected by the environment. I am a neuroscience major, with English and Chemistry minors. I became interested in environmental effects after taking a class in Neurotoxicology and Neurodegeneration last year under Professor Gunnar Kwakye at Oberlin. I learned about the established symptoms and consequences of lead(Pb) exposure in class; Pb is a potent neurotoxin, which remains prevalent in our environment despite regulatory efforts. There is no safe limit of the element, and as lead is still used in petrol in many developing countries, lead still presents a major global health risk (WHO).
What is your summer research project?
Recent studies suggest that Pb exposure might increase the risk of sleep and metabolic disturbances, later in life. The Simmons lab, in conjunction with the Veasey Lab, is trying to identify the mechanisms by which Pb causes residual damage to the nervous and metabolic systems after exposure in utero. This summer, I examined whether a specific population of neurons that influence both sleep/wake and metabolism, the orexinergic neurons, are injured by lead exposure.
What are the implications of your research?
My work suggests that there are lasting changes in the projections of orexinergic neurons. Additionally, I have begun to explore lasting effects of Pb exposure on glucose regulation.
What new skills have you gained through this experience?
I have learned so much this summer and am excited to follow this project as it progresses.