New Research Grant to Norma Velazquez Ulloa
Dr. Norma Velazquez Ulloa, Assistant Professor of Biology and faculty member in the Neuroscience Program, has been awarded a New Investigator Grant by the Medical Research Foundation. This program supports promising new investigators conducting biomedical research in Oregon with one-year, $40,000 competitive grants. Dr. Velazquez Ulloa’s award will support her work with two Lewis & Clark undergraduates on the research project she proposed, “Identifying genes that mediate the effects of developmental nicotine exposure.”
Nicotine exposure during development negatively affects the offspring—it can interfere with the normal development of the organism, including changes to the nervous system that may have consequences on behavior later in life. Dr. Velazquez Ulloa’s laboratory studies nicotine exposure during development, using Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, as a model organism. More specifically, Dr. Velazquez Ulloa and her team are engaged in identifying genes that confer resistance or sensitivity to nicotine, and characterizing the specific role(s) these genes play in mediating the effects of nicotine exposure during development. The lab uses Drosophila melanogaster because between 65 and 75% of human disease-causing genes have a similar gene in the fly; the lab has previously shown that many of the effects that nicotine has in mammals including humans, are recapitulated in flies when exposed to nicotine during development. More about Dr. Velazquez Ulloa’s research is available here.
Since arriving at Lewis & Clark in 2013, Dr. Velazquez Ulloa has mentored 15 undergraduate students, three high school students and one high school teacher in research critical to understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms associated with addiction. It is notable that this is the third successful research grant she has landed as Principal Investigator—following a three-year M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Natural Sciences research grant and two-year Partners in Science award. Further, she has served/is serving as co-PI on two other external grants: an NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant that supported the purchase of the College’s confocal microscope, and a Murdock Collaborative Research Alliance Pilot Initiative grant.