Three faculty members were awarded the 2017 President’s Award for Research Excellence on Oct. 4. Recipients were selected by the university and external reviewers based on research accomplishments, publications and grant success.
This award serves as a grant valued at $3,000 to faculty members for continuing their research.
Brian Burrell, professor of basic biomedical sciences, teaches introduction to neurobiology. Burrell got his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from Ohio State University and did his post doctorate at the University of Miami School of Medicine and at Purdue University.
Burrell received the established faculty award for his research on the biological basis of changes in behavior, with a specific focus on neurobehavioral changes related to pain.
“Most of my research works on what changes inside the brain in order to produce a change in behavior,” Burrell said. “For example, how do synapses change in relation to after we’ve undergone a painful event? A lot of the research I’m focused on is what’s called nociception, or the sensory component of pain, not the emotional component of pain.”
Burrell said his research could improve future therapies for treating pain.
“When we receive a nociceptive stimulus or a painful stimulus, we’re often more sensitive afterward, so what are the mechanisms that mediate that? On the flip side, our brains have inborn ways to control pain or reduce it, so I’m also interested in what those mechanisms are,” he said. “If we understand those processes, we might understand and be able to develop better therapies to treat pain in the future.”
Samuel Sathyanesan is a basic professor of biomedical sciences and a neuroscientist. He teaches a wide variety of classes, including molecular biology of the gene, neurobiology of disease, cardiovascular sciences and foundations of nervous system.
Sathyanesan got his bachelor’s degree in zoology, master’s in zoology with fisheries and an emphasis in human genetics and then his Ph.D. for biotechnology in India. He also received a second Ph.D. at Notre Dame, followed by his post doctorate at Yale University.
Sathyanesan received the research innovation & entrepreneurship award for his research on growth factor molecules in the brain, and how they relate to psychiatric disorders such as depression.
“(I’m) trying to understand how they work, but falling in one central hypothesis, which has to do with antidepressants as well as depression affecting levels of these protein molecules called neurotrophic factors,” he said. “These proteins are responsible for the health and nourishment of neurons in the brain and their structure and function.”
Sathyanesan said prolonged stress is a subset of depression, and neurotrophic factors are declining so neurons begin to malfunction and affect behavior.
“Previous studies have shown that people who suffer from depression use stress to try and reproduce facets of depression,” he said. “That’s what’s used in all these models, they found that the level of neurotrophic factors are declining. So when that happens, their neurons begin to malfunction and when that gets affected, behavior gets affected. That’s what you see on the clinical side of depression.”
Sathyanesan’s work is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. His laboratory looks at molecular, cellular and behavioral approaches to look at safer options for the treatment of depression and cognitive dysfunction. He said antidepressants elevate the levels of neurotrophic factors in the brain.
Soonhee Roh, an associate professor of social work in the health science center in Sioux Falls, received her mid-career faculty award for her research on vulnerable populations such as older adults, acculturative stress and those with health and mental health problems such as substance use.
Her research is funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institute of Health. She’s interested in research relating to diverse ethnic populations such as American Indians.
Roh was unavailable for an interview.