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Kayla Baker hadn’t even heard of the enteric nervous system when Keith Sharkey, professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, came to speak to her Neuroscience 201 class.
But she was really impressed by Sharkey and his work into the nervous system in the gut in health and disease, so she emailed him asking to be part of his lab.
“It really pulled at me,” says Baker, a second-year bachelor of neuroscience student. ”He was all about work and hard work and how that would pay off. And that’s why I came to his lab.”
Through the Markin Undergraduate Student Research Project (USRP) in Health and Wellness, Baker was funded to spend up to 10 hours a week working in Sharkey’s lab, studying how a newly discovered enzyme is distributed within the enteric nervous system.
The enzyme helps regulate molecules that are important for movement in the gastrointestinal tract. “Kayla’s results suggest the enzyme is present within the wall of the gut,” says Sharkey. “It’s the beginnings of important work.”
While her USRP grant is completed, Baker is hoping to get back to the lab to keep researching the enzyme. “It’s a brand new antibody and it hasn’t been worked with extensively,” she says. “There has been a lot of preliminary data that’s been needed to get to the core of what we actually want to do, so I hope to carry it out in the summer.”
Baker says, aside from learning about the gastrointestinal tract, working in the lab has taught her to be precise and more scientific in her thinking.
Sharkey says he always learns a few things too when USRP undergraduates come through his lab. “The students bring new life and fresh eyes and rejuvenation to you because they’re not constrained,” he says. “You get stuck in your ways about things and then students come and you have to explain it again and that makes you think differently.”
Learn more about USRP .