Amy L. Griffin, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware, has been named the 2014 Neuroscientist of the Year by the Delaware Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience.
The award was presented at the seventh annual Delaware Neuroscience Research and Poster Symposium on Dec. 5 at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. Also at the symposium, sponsored by the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research, 39 graduate students, undergraduates and postdoctoral researchers presented posters.
Griffin conducts research on the brain mechanisms of working memory, particularly the interaction between the prefrontal cortex, located at the front of the brain, and the hippocampus, a region in the temporal lobe of the brain.
When the two areas fail to work together, she said, that failure appears to be correlated with deficits in working memory, a condition that commonly occurs in schizophrenia, general anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.
This fall, she received a five-year, $1.78 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to support her work. Using a rat model, the research will employ a cutting-edge technique called optogenetics, a process that uses proteins to make neurons sensitive to light and then uses light to control them.
“Optogenetics is becoming a common technique,” Griffin said. “It’s a way to study these processes on a millisecond timescale.”
Her earlier research was supported by a 2012 grant from the National Institutes of Health that established the Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research, a partnership between UD and Delaware State University (DSU). That initial grant supported the established research programs of five investigators at the two universities, including Griffin, as well as four smaller pilot projects.
The center, housed at DSU, brings together faculty and students from the two institutions to carry out research related to brain development and the neurobiology of learning and memory. With UD's doctoral neuroscience program having a behavioral focus in the psychology department and DSU's having a biological focus, collaborations between the two programs offer advantages to students as well as faculty.
Griffin, who joined the UD faculty in 2007, has delivered numerous invited talks, serves on the editorial board of the journal Behavioral Neuroscience and mentors undergraduate and graduate students in research.
Poster presentation award-winners
Following are the awards for poster presentations given in several categories at the Dec. 5 symposium.
- Zhiqin Li, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.
Graduate students, all from UD:
- First place, Henry Hallock;
- Second place (tie), Karen Boschen and Tiffany Doherty;
- Third place (tie), Caitlin Posillico and Nadia Stepicheva.
All are students in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences except Stepicheva, who is a student in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Undergraduate students, both from UD’s College of Arts and Sciences:
- First place, Laurne Terasaki;
- Second place, Ryan Kirk.