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Loukya Kanakamedala '17

“The Neuroprotective Effects of Curcumin in the 6-Hydroxydopamine Model of Parkinson’s Disease”

Major: Neuroscience-Cellular 
Hometown: Bethlehem, PA
Project Advisor: Dr. Cecilia Fox

Briefly describe your project.

My project seeks to understand how a compound known as curcumin can provide protection to dopamine neurons within rat models of Parkinson’s disease. Curcumin, a compound derived from turmeric, provides both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in animal models of neurodegeneration. It displays these unique properties in treating a multitude of disorders ranging from brain cancer to Alzheimer’s disease to traumatic brain injury.

However, there is not much research focusing on the protective effects of curcumin in parkinsonian animal models. It is known that the activation of glial cells such as astrocytes or microglia, may result in the inflammation present in the parkinsonian brain, contributing to the destruction of dopamine neurons. However, at this time, there are no documented studies examining whether curcumin provides neuroprotection through its anti-inflammatory properties as a consequence of a diminished glial cell response in a rat parkinsonian model. Therefore, the study investigates this mechanism of protection through a behavioral and cellular analysis. 

Why did you decide to turn your idea into a SOAR project?

My project originates from the question I asked during my junior year regarding an intense literature review on the topic. I proposed the idea to my mentor and I was fortunately given the opportunity to carry it out and improve it through my SOAR project. 

How did your faculty advisor guide you through your research?

The best part about working with my faculty mentor was having the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from someone that shares my area of interest. In addition, the opportunity has allowed me to develop a strong relationship with my mentor that is based upon trust and support. Having such strong support and advice on my side has allowed me to grow not only as a student but as a researcher, as well. My mentor has brought a numerous amount of valuable insights in improving the basis of my study and guiding me through the various research techniques that are used. 

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

So far, I have not encountered any major obstacles that have hindered or affected my progress within the study. However, if I am faced with an obstacle, I would not give up and I would proactively search for other options to face such a difficulty. I would speak with my advisor and together we would propose an idea that will allow us to move forward with the study.  

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest takeaway from this experience is the vast amount of knowledge I had gained not only in the realm of neuroscience but also in performing research procedures. In addition, this experience has opened my eyes to the field of research and allowed me to develop a passion for contributing to the scientific community. 

What was the result of your project? 

My SOAR project focused on attaining the behavior data necessary within the study. The data collected has shown that curcumin is able to significantly preserve motor function in rats exposed to 6-hydroxydopamine. It is capable of providing protection to dopaminergic neurons when observing tasks that involve balance, locomotor function, and fine motor skills. Within each task, the group that was administered curcumin performed better than the control animals who received the vehicle, dimethyl sulfoxide. 

Will you expand on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go

I do plan to expand upon my research through my Honors Project that focuses on attaining cellular data to better understand the function of glial inhibition in protecting dopaminergic neurons. I would like to see my Honors project seek to answer the question about the mechanism of protection for curcumin through an immunohistological analysis for dopamine neurons, microglia, and astrocytes. 

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity? 

I am grateful to be awarded this opportunity in carrying out my own study as an undergraduate student. It is truly rewarding to work with such a dedicated mentor who always pushes me to be the best I can be. I feel that other students should take advantage of the SOAR program because it provides them with an eye-opening experience within an area they may have never considered before. With such great support from our professors, the opportunity to pursue a SOAR project allows each student to truly expand their knowledge and experience within the field of science.