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Lycoming College alumna Gillian Barkell ’19 recently attended and presented research at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago. She was awarded the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience travel award to attend this year’s meeting, where she presented her poster, “Caffeine-Induced Increases in the Reinforcing Effects of Alcohol are Independent of Activity at the Dopamine D2 Receptor.”
The concept for Barkell’s research originated from her time working with Sarah Holstein, Ph.D., assistant professor and co-coordinator of the neuroscience program at Lycoming College. “Through our discussions and work, we created a very interesting study demonstrating that caffeine may be increasing the reinforcing or pleasurable effects of alcohol,” said Holstein. “Gillian took this research further, demonstrating that this reinforcement enhancing effect of caffeine occurs independent of enhanced activity at the D2 receptor, a type of dopamine receptor in the brain which is important for pleasure and reward. These findings counter the prevailing hypothesis for how caffeine may be enhancing the rewarding value of pleasurable substances, such as alcohol, and open up new questions for how caffeine may specifically be promoting heightened levels of alcohol and drug use.”
The Society for Neuroscience offers the leading venue for neuroscientists to present new science, learn from experts, collaborate with others, and advance their careers. This annual meeting brings around 30,000 neuroscientists students, professors, and researchers from more than 70 different countries.
“The opportunity for an undergraduate student to present her research at the meeting is quite an honor,” added Holstein. “At this meeting, Gillian was quite literally presenting her research from Lycoming College among graduate students, postdocs, and established research scientists. We were very honored to represent the great work that students are doing at Lycoming College at the annual meeting this year.”
Barkell worked with Holstein for over two years in the lab, and completed her honors thesis, which is represented in her Society for Neuroscience meeting poster, during the 2018-2019 academic year. “My time in Dr. Sarah Holstein's lab allowed me to gain valuable hands-on experience in animal research and determine that a career in behavioral neuroscience was right for me,” said Barkell. “Getting to perform daily research and complete an honors project in the Holstein lab, as well as the research design- and writing-focused classes offered at Lycoming, fully prepared me for my current education in graduate school.”
Barkell graduated from Lycoming College with a bachelor of science in psychology and a minor in biology. She is currently working toward her doctorate as a first year graduate student in the behavioral and integrative neuroscience graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.