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Department of Physiology Fall 2023 Newsletter

From the Department Chair...

Karl Olson, Ph.D., Chair
Karl Olson, Ph.D., Chair
Department of Physiology

Hello Spartan community!  As we embark on another academic year, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the journey we've been through together and share some exciting prospects for the future of the department.

Last year and this past spring semester presented us with numerous challenges, some of which we could have never anticipated and forever changed us as a community. After nine years as department chair, Dr. Lee Cox stepped down last May to accept a new position as the university's Research Integrity Officer. We hired eight new faculty members to accommodate the growth of our department and meet the increased enrollment pressure in our undergraduate physiology and neuroscience courses and programs. We also saw some faculty and staff departures; we wish them well in their new endeavors.

A sense of normalcy returned to the department as COVID-19 mandates and restrictions were fully lifted at the start of the 2022 academic year. This was short-lived, as tragedy struck our campus earlier this year in February; we were all left with many unanswered questions, but we have persevered. Our MSU family continues to heal and feel the acts of kindness and compassion from our many surrounding communities.

Despite these hurdles, I am incredibly proud of how our department has endured and adapted. Together, we navigated unprecedented circumstances and continued to provide an exceptional educational experience for our students.

We continue to see remarkable achievements and breakthroughs from our faculty. The stories in this issue are a testament to their research and scholarly endeavors, which have had a significant impact in their respective fields.

Our students' accomplishments both inside and outside the classroom have been nothing short of exceptional. These successes fuel our passion for teaching, learning and research and remind us why we are dedicated to our mission.

Moving into the next academic year, we are committed to building on our strengths, fostering a diverse and inclusive environment, and promoting innovation and an interdisciplinary academic community. We will continue to enhance our curriculum, exploring new approaches to ensure our students receive a comprehensive and well-rounded education that prepares them for the ever-changing world. We will also invest in faculty development, providing opportunities for research and professional growth. By supporting our faculty, we ensure that they have the tools and resources they need to thrive and, in turn, enrich the lives of our students.

As we embrace the future, we will be guided by our core values: integrity, respect, inclusivity and a commitment to making a positive impact on society. Together, we will continue to shape the minds of future leaders, create knowledge that pushes the boundaries of understanding, and contribute to the betterment of our community and beyond. I am excited about what lies ahead and confident that our department will continue to achieve new heights. Let us approach the future with enthusiasm, open minds and a shared sense of purpose.

Thank you once again for your continued contributions and unwavering support of the Department of Physiology. Together, we are poised to create a transformative and inspiring environment for all. 

Alumni Class Notes

Emily (Smith) Farkas, physiology, '97, retired from the United States Air Force as a colonel after nearly 25 years of honorable service. Farkas is currently a graduate student in the University of South Florida's Masters of Science in Medical Sciences program in Tampa, Fla., where she is pursuing a new career as a medical professional. 

Daniel Harvey, physiology, '79, has been in solo practice in family medicine since 2000. He has served on the Academy of Family Physicians as Los Angeles Chapter president, California board of directors; is co-founder of Mercy Outreach Missions (now in its 25th year) through his church, which provides medical and dental services to migrant communities in Baja, refugees in Tijuana, and other areas of Mexico and Panama; is on the faculty at the Harbor-UCLA residency program, overseeing their homeless program; and was a front-line responder during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Memoriam

Shirley Siew headshotShirley Siew, professor of human pathology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM), passed away on June 16, 2022. She was 97 years old. The South African native was born on March 12, 1925. Siew received her M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She came to the United States in 1970 and joined the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) in 1977, where she taught for more than 20 years. Her dedication to learning is evident in the student scholarship endowment named in her honor, which supports students pursuing clinical or doctoral degrees from MSU COM.



Bard Bird HeadshotBarb Bird retired in June of 2022 after 20 years of service at MSU. During her time here, she worked in various units including the special education department, the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (now known as MSU AgBioResearch), the Office of Supportive Services and the Department of Physiology. Her main duties as an undergraduate assistant were processing overrides and job hires for students and helping to maintain schedules for faculty and other advisors. Barb plans to use her free time making jewelry, and spending time with her husband, Brian, of 31 years, who also retired from MSU last July - as a magnet engineer in the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB.

Arthur Weber headshotArthur Weber retired in May 2023 after 29 years of teaching and research at MSU. His primary studies focused on retinal degeneration as it relates to glaucoma. During his storied career, Weber was the recipient of the Ruth Salta Junior Investigator Achievement Award from the BrightFocus Foundation of the National Glaucoma Research; was twice featured in Michigan Medicine magazine for his research; and holds a patent on the development of a non-invasive contact lensÐbased sensor for monitoring intraocular pressure, or IOP, which is a primary risk factor in glaucoma. He plans to continue working toward the commercialization of the IOP sensor. Weber received his bachelor's degree in biology from Princeton University and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

New Faculty/Staff

Jennifer Doherty headshotJennifer Doherty joined the department and Lyman Briggs College as an assistant professor in August 2022. Doherty is a discipline-based education researcher who investigates how students develop principle-based mechanistic reasoning in physiology. She received her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Byron Gipson headshotByron Gipson joined the department as a fixed-term assistant professor in August 2022. Gipson's area of research is drug addiction, more specifically changes in neural communication related to cocaine use. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Indiana University in Bloomington.

Tyler Lee headshotTyler Lee joined the department as its communications manager in April 2022. Lee manages print and digital communications in the joint physiology and pathology units of the Colleges of Human Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, Natural Science and Veterinary Medicine. He received his M.A. in public relations and organizational communications from Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich., and his B.A. from MSU's School of Journalism. 

Keeler Steele headshotKeeler Steele started his role as an instructional laboratory coordinator in August 2023. Steele was previously an instructional equipment and supplies technician. He has been instrumental in leading community outreach efforts. He has an interest in studying the autonomic nervous system and integrative physiology and technology in the classroom and laboratory. Steele received a dual B.S. degree in physiology and human biology from MSU in 2021.

Nathan Lanning headshotNathan Lanning joined the department as a fixed-term associate professor in June 2023. Lanning's research focuses on how cell signaling, mitochondrial function and metabolism are interrelated. He received his Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

Yun Liang headshotYun Liang joined the department as an assistant professor in January 2023. Liang's research focuses on the inflammatory disease lupus, and its symptoms in women and children. She received her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the University of California, San Diego, and Salk Institute for Biological Studies.  

Stephanie Ly headshotStephanie Ly joined the department as the unit HR administrator in August 2023. Ly serves as the lead human resources position for the department and its affiliated units. Most previously, she was an advisor with the Office for International Students and Scholars. Stephanie received her B.A. in Humanities/Pre-Law from MSU in 2013.

Shahnaz Masani headshotShahnaz Masani joined the department and Lyman Briggs College as an assistant professor in August 2022. Masani's research focuses on increasing equity and inclusion in undergraduate classrooms. Her goal is to design a classroom where all students can succeed. She received her Ph.D. in genetics from MSU.  

Cameron Prigge headshotCameron Prigge joined the department as a fixed-term assistant professor in August 2022. Prigge's research interests are cellular and molecular mechanisms of neural circuit development, neurophysiology, neurogenetics and the retina. She received her Ph.D. in biological and biomedical sciences from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.

Ashley Maloff headshotAshley Maloff joined the department as an academic advisor in December 2022. Maloff advises approximately 1,200 undergraduate physiology and neuroscience majors. Prior to this position, she was an ability access specialist at the MSU Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities. Maloff received her B.A. in special education learning disabilities from MSU and her M.Ed. in higher education from Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich.

Theodore Towse headshotTheodore Towse joined the department as a fixed-term associate professor in August 2022. Towse's research focuses on skeletal muscle physiology and brown adipose tissue. Prior to joining MSU, he was an associate professor of biomedical sciences at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich. Towse received his Ph.D. in physiology from MSU. 

Charlotte Vanacker headshotCharlotte Vanacker joined the department as a fixed-term assistant professor in August 2022. Vanacker investigates the mechanisms controlling reproductive function and fertility in the brain. She received her Ph.D. in neurobiology and neurosciences from the University of Lille Nord de France. 

Bradley Robinson headshotBradley Robinson joined the department as the educational program coordinator in June 2022. Prior to this role, Robinson was an administrative assistant in the MSU Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. He received his B.A. in business administration from Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich.


Julia Busik headshotJulia Busik left in August 2023, after 27 years in the department, to serve as chairperson of the University of Oklahoma Health and Science Center's departments of physiology and biochemistry. During her tenure at MSU, Busik headed the Laboratory of Diabetic Complications and helped establish the Mass Spectrometry and Metabolics and IVIS Spectrum Imaging Core facilities. 

Sydney Miller headshot

Sydney Miller left their position as an instructional equipment and supplies technician in the Neuroscience Teaching Lab in May 2023 to take a position as a research assistant studying ovarian cancer at Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich. 

Kanchan Pavangadkar headshot

Kanchan Pavangadkar left her
position in the department as academic specialist/advisor for neuroscience undergraduate majors in April 2022 to serve as the Assistant Director of Student Success for the MSU College of Natural Science.

Sherri Reese headshotSherri Reese left her position as unit human resources administrator in October 2022 to take a position with the MSU Office of the Provost as its unit human resources administrator. During her time with the department, Reese guided the department's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives and the hiring of top scholars, faculty and staff.

Jenny Taylor headshotJenny Taylor left the department in June 2022 after nearly 10 years at MSU to take a position as program manager for the National Networks of Depression Centers headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich. The former assistant professor was the primary lead instructor and coordinator for the neuroscience laboratory course, NEU 311L, and helped organize the Neuroscience Fair for several years.

Faculty/PostDoc Honors

Brian Gulbransen headshotBrian Gulbransen was selected for an American Physiological Society (APS) Distinguished Lectureship with the award of the Raj and Prem Goyal Lectureship in Pathophysiology of Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. The award, offered by APS and the Gastrointestinal & Liver Section, recognizes exemplary contributions of research in physiology in understanding the mechanism and treatment of gastrointestinal and liver diseases.

Erica Wehrwein headshotErica Wehrwein, associate professor, received the 2022 Arthur C. Guyton Distinguished Educator of the Year Award presented by the Teaching Section of the American Physiological Society. Wehrwein was recognized for demonstrated excellence in teaching and significant contributions to physiology education, including curricular design and reform.

Staff Honors

Amy Porter headshotThe Investigative Histopathology Laboratory, under the management of supervisor Amy Porter and Jessie Lee Neuman, was honored with the 2022 Outstanding MSU Core Facility Award during the MSU Office of Environmental Health and Safety's Lab Safety Recognition Awards. Porter and Neuman were praised for their management and handling of various chemicals, tissue samples and waste disposal.

Jessie Lee Neuman headshotPorter and Neuman were praised for their management and handling of various chemicals, tissue samples and waste disposal.

Student Honors

Carson Broeker headshotCarson Broeker, graduate student (Andrechek lab), was named an MSU Cancer Research Pentecost Foundation Aitch Fellow. The fellowship is awarded to graduate students who are conducting research in early detection and diagnostics, genetic and cellular changes to tumor development, or the identification of new cancer targets or therapeutic agents. 

Tim Dorweiler headshotTim Dorweiler, graduate student (Busik lab), was elected to the International Society for Eye Research (ISER) Early Career Researcher Committee. He was also selected for the global mentorship program of the Association for Research and Vision in Ophthalmology and ISER. 

Nick Giacobbi headshotNick Giacobbi, graduate student (Pyeon lab), was named an MSU Cancer Research Pentecost Foundation Aitch Fellow. Giacobbi also received the department's 2023 Jack R. Hoffert Memorial Scholarship in recognition of his research on cancer immunology and the relationship to human papillomavirus or HPV.

Cristina Rivera Quiles headshotCristina Rivera Quiles, graduate student (Mazei-Robison lab), received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship for her demonstrated leadership in science and for advancing equity and inclusion. She also received a 2023 American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Conference Travel Award.  

Jariel Ram’rez Virella headshotJariel Ram’rez Virella, a graduate student (Leinninger Lab), was awarded a National Institutes of Health F31 (individual predoctoral fellowship) grant in support of his research to understand how the brain controls feeding and obesity. He also received a travel award to the NEURAL conference to share his findings on modulating the neurotensin signaling system to support weight loss.

Meenakshi Sudhakaran headshotMeenakshi Sudhakaran, graduate student (Doseff lab), was awarded a 2022 Barnett Rosenberg Endowed Research Assistantship, in recognition of a distinguished record of accomplishment at MSU. She was also the department's 2022 recipient of the Jack R. Hoffert Memorial Scholarship.

Brett Trombley headshotBrett Trombley, graduate student (Mohr lab), was awarded the 2023 Outstanding Scholar Fellowship from the College of Natural Science. He also placed third in a poster session at the International Society for Eye Research conference held in Gold Coast, Australia, this past February. 

Research Feature

Powering up to fight disease

Many diseases and disorders stem from disruptions in metabolic function. Michigan State University's Jason Bazil is hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of metabolic dysfunction in order to discover fresh approaches to combat a wide range of illnesses and disorders associated with dysfunctional mitochondria.

"Metabolism is foundational to all life, and mitochondria constitute a major element of metabolism," said Bazil, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology. "They are ubiquitous and form a diverse family of organelles that are used by most forms of life as we know it. Mitochondria are essentially little batteries for your cells, and we still have so much more to learn about them."

His research was recently awarded an $888,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early CAREER grant, the foundation's highest award in support of junior faculty who have the potential to serve as role models in research and education.

Support from the grant will allow Bazil to employ advanced microscopy to visualize mitochondrial structural details and molecular methods to mimic disrupted mitochondrial metabolism. He is hoping this research will open new avenues of scientific inquiry focused on improving the health and well-being of people across the world.


"The short-term goal of this project is to demonstrate that ultrastructure is a major governing factor behind the metabolic behavior of mitochondria," said Bazil, adding that this will lead to the development of sophisticated, spatial models of mitochondrial metabolism that reveal causal origins of various disease pathologies affecting people worldwide.

Bazil's desire to learn how systems work and to seek ways to control them was what drove him to pursue his research studies in understanding the precise mechanism in mitochondrial processes.

Photo of Jason Bazil with lab members Alyssa Vadovsky and Jada Roberts
Jason Bazil (left) discusses an experiment with lab members Alyssa Vadovsky, a second-year master's student (center) and Jada Roberts, a second-year Ph.D. student.

"This field provides some of the most challenging puzzles to solve," said Bazil, whose lab is developing methods for large-scale data analysis to generate predictive models that are useful for emerging applications in pharmacogenomics and systems pharmacology.

In addition, the grant will help Bazil with his commitment to improving equity in the STEM fields.

"I aim to recruit curious and hardworking individuals from various underrepresented groups," said Bazil, who is also the chair of the MSU Department of Physiology's DEI Committee. "For example, I just accepted a new URM graduate student to work on some aspects of this project. Without this award, I wouldn't have been able to bring her on board."

Looking ahead, Bazil knows that this project won't be without its challenges but knows it will be worth it.

"This is a multidisciplinary project with lofty aspirations, so putting all the pieces together in an optimal way will be challenging," Bazil said. "However, working with others to solve this daunting problem will be very rewarding."


Giving Profile

Thomas Adams celebrates 10 years

"It was profoundly influential for my MSU collegiate career, and helped propel me to reach my professional goals," said Ronald Roseman, M.D.

Thomas Adams at desk
Thomas Adams

"It was a key instrument to my success at MSU; it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that I wouldn't be where I am today without it," Michael Bekele said.

It has been immensely helpful to furthering my education in medicine," Kelsey Gullick said.

These are the comments made by three recipients of the Thomas Adams Memorial Scholarship, which is celebrating its 10th year. The first scholarship was awarded in 2013; to date, 12 students have received funding.

Ronald Roseman headshot
Ronald Roseman

Professor Thomas Adams was an outstanding and dedicated researcher, teacher and mentor in MSU's Department of Physiology. More than 16,000 students have enrolled in courses taught by Adams during his 44 years of teaching at MSU.

After his death in 2011, his wife, Peggy, established the endowed scholarship in his honor. 

"Dr. Adams was extremely dedicated to advancing undergraduate students in physiology," said Laura McCabe, MSU Foundation Professor in the physiology department. "He not only taught physiology concepts, but he applied them to real-life situations."

"The scholarship not only aided with my financial needs but also allowed me to be a part of the Thomas Adams Scholars legacy," said Roseman, who received the scholarship in 2015.

Since graduating from MSU in 2015, Roseman received his medical degree from MSU's College of Human Medicine and has now begun his residency in family medicine at the University of Rochester, New York.

Michael Bekele headshot
Michael Bekele 

"I had very limited resources, but I had big goals I wanted to accomplish," said Bekele, the 2021 recipient. Originally from Ethiopia, he moved to the United States in 2014. "When I was selected for the [scholarship], it was a miracle and a dream come true," Bekele said. "It also has had an impact on my view of the world, how generosity can change lives for the better."

Bekele received his undergraduate degree from MSU in 2022 and is currently a first-year pharmacy student at the University of Maryland and works part time as a laboratory technician. After graduation, he plans to join a nonprofit and help disadvantaged communities in Ethiopia.

Kelsey Gullick headshot
Kelsey Gullick

"Because of this scholarship, I have been able to fully apply to physician assistant school," said Gullick, the 2022 scholarship recipient who earned her B.S. degree in May 2023. "Additionally, I hope to use the scholarship for an admissions seat deposit, if accepted."

Gullick is currently working full-time as a patient care technician at a pediatric office in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"Dr. Adams set a strong foundation - and we have built upon that," McCabe said. "This award continues his enthusiasm and devotion to physiology through the support of outstanding students who are creative, innovative, dedicated and on the trajectory to make great contributions to the physiology field."

To learn more about the Thomas Adams Memorial Scholarship, visit: https://natsci.msu.edu/natsci-profiles/peggy-adams-beloved-professor-leaves-a-legacy-of-learning.aspx

Recent Grants

Eran Andrechek, professor, will use a five-year, $2.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to help define the role of the repressor E2F5 gene in mammary gland development. It's important to investigate how this transcription factor E2F5 works, because when it gets mis-regulated, the genes they control can transition to cancer. This research will lay the foundation to help understand the implications for cancer biology.

Shane Crandall, assistant professor, was awarded a five-year, $1.9 million NIH grant to study how neocortical feedback projections influence sensory processing in the brain. Researchers will utilize new generation optogenetic technologies to allow them to precisely control the activity of neurons with light in both isolated and intact brain preparations. Research results may lead to improved treatment strategies for certain neurological and psychiatric disorders that involve abnormal communication in the neocortex.

Michelle Mazei-Robison, associate professor, received a two-year, $423,000 NIH-National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant to investigate the role of neuromedin S (NMS) neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the brain in morphine responses. These data will provide rationale for design of specific NMS pharmacological reagents, offering the promise that insights gained in these studies could lead to improved treatment of addiction.

Susanne Mohr, associate professor, received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the American Diabetes Association for a clinical trial to understand hurdles that affect efficacy of standard (anti-VEGF) treatment for diabetic macular edema in a diverse patient population. Statistics reveal that 30 to 50 percent of diabetic patients, especially minority patients, do not respond adequately to anti-VEGF therapy. The goal is to identify retinal markers early on that will allow a physician to develop personalized treatment protocols.

A.J. Robison, associate professor and director of the Neuroscience Program at MSU, has received two NIH grants. The first is a $3 million R01 to investigate how male and female brains respond to stress differently, and how testosterone could be the key to increasing resilience. The second is a $2.9 million R01 with Adam Moeser, D.V.M., to investigate stress- and infection-driven neuroimmune activation in the brain. Mast cells (MCs) are innate immune cells that play a central role in sickness, allergies and psychiatric diseases. This research will uncover the specific mechanisms by which MC gene expression is regulated, as well as uncover potential gene targets for therapeutic intervention in MC-related diseases or infection.

Mass Spec lab helps uncover molecular mechanisms of disease

Once Todd Lydic set foot on the MSU campus, he never left. He transferred into MSU as an undergraduate student, completed his Ph.D. in physiology in 2012 and then took a post-doctoral position in an MSU chemistry lab.

"That's what I was doing when I learned about the opportunity to start the mass spec lab," he said. "I decided to jump in and see what happened!"

What happened is Todd Lydic is now director of MSU's Collaborative Mass Spectrometry Core Facility - colloquially referred to as the mass spec lab. Now located in the Biomedical Physical Sciences Building, the lab - which provides untargeted and targeted metabolomics and lipidomics analysis - was relocated from the Chemistry Building last fall.

"Untargeted lipidomics analysis is the 'bread and butter' of the lab, but we have methods in place to analyze most types of biological molecules from nearly any type of sample," Lydic said. "Most of our projects revolve around helping MSU investigators uncover molecular mechanisms of a disease."

One current study in the lab is investigating lipid metabolites associated with the onset and progression of allergic asthma; another project examines how a drug used in a clinical trial may impact serum and lipoprotein lipid markers.

Todd Lydic with students
Todd Lydic (at computer) explains a biological pathway analysis of untargeted metabolomics data obtained on an Orbitrap LC-MS system to (L to R) Leslie Miller, research assistant; Anna Lin, research assistant and lab manager; and Ayush Ippalapelli, undergraduate research assistant.

"Soon," Lydic added, "I think advancements in the instrument platforms and in the software used to analyze the data will help us dig much deeper into large datasets in a shorter amount of time."


Enhancing learning through virtual reality

Students in PSL 311L may feel a little more comfortable "jumping" into in-person dissections after completing the Virtual Frog Lab experience.This past year, John Zubek, assistant professor, began testing the use of virtual reality (VR) in his physiology course for pre-professional students, in which 250 students are enrolled each year.

Female student wearing a VR headset
A student in John Zubek's Physiology Laboratory for Pre-Health Professionals course uses virtual reality to perform a virtual dissection before performing one hands-on.

More than 20 students participated in the voluntary program and completed pre- and post-surveys. The initial survey revealed that 50 percent of the students had one or fewer animal dissection experiences, and 89 percent had little to no virtual reality experience. Zubek also found that some students were reluctant to perform dissections on previously live animals.

"With virtual reality, students are able to practice in a simulated environment before coming into the lab and performing a hands-on dissection," said Zubek adding that other physiology courses and units across campus are beginning to incorporate VR into its curriculum, too.

After completing both the virtual and hands-on dissections, 73 percent of the students felt that in-person animal dissections were "still necessary" in learning science; and 44 percent said it was "cool" and they "felt more prepared."

Zubek now has enough VR headsets so an entire class of students can participate this fall.

"We're at the very beginning stage of using VR in the classroom," he said. "But I think students will engage at a level that will spark their interest a little more, and they'll be able to explore concepts more deeply than they would in a traditional environment."


Pain and pounds: A partnering pursuit

An unprecedented collaboration is underway within the Michigan State University Department of Physiology, blending the realms of neuroscience, pain perception and metabolism. 

Associate Professor Gina Leinninger and Assistant Professor Geoffroy Laumet have teamed up to embark on a groundbreaking research project with the support of a four-year, $1.36 million Department of Defense partnering principal investigator (PI) grant. The two researchers are hoping to discover the intricate relationship between chronic pain and obesity, a dual epidemic affecting millions of Americans, particularly veterans who are more susceptible to these health issues than the general population. 

"Our goal is to understand how neurons in the brain use a neurochemical called neurotensin to modify feeding and pain that might be useful to relieve obesity and obesity-induced pain," said Leinninger, adding that one-third of Americans are obese and at an increased risk to develop chronic pain. "Neurotensin has been shown in separate studies to reduce feeding and relieve pain, but how and where it does so is unclear."

Leinninger and Laumet built the hypothesis that the neurotensin system may be a target to simultaneously promote weight loss and relieve pain, which would be ideal for addressing comorbid obesity and chronic pain. 

"Our discoveries may be a breakthrough for treating people suffering from both chronic pain and obesity, especially veterans who have given so much for their country," Laumet said.

The partner principal investigator (PI) grant wouldn't have been possible without Leinninger's research

of neurons responsible for feeding behavior and Laumet's study of neurons modulating pain perception.

 "Together we have the ideal combination of expertise and unique reagents necessary to address this cross-disciplinary topic," said Leinninger, who is also the director of the department's Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology graduate program. 

Geoffroy Laumet and Gina Leinninger in a lab
Geoffroy Laumet (left) and Gina Leinninger are combining their respective expertise to embark on a groundbreaking research project that seeks to discover the intricate relationship between chronic pain and obesity, a dual epidemic affecting millions of Americans.

"This project could not be undertaken by either PI individually, but together our expertise makes us uniquely positioned to address this significant line of research."

In the long term, Leinninger and Laumet aim to wield their newfound knowledge to design safe and effective treatments for the millions suffering from this dual affliction.

 "We hope to develop the idea that the same drug may alleviate both diseases," Laumet said.

"Looking ahead, Laumet hopes this is the start of a long collaboration between the two labs.

"Four years will never be enough to address all the questions we have about the physiology of these neurons," he said. "Outstanding questions for the future include, 'What happens in these neurons for a person with obesity, [significant] weight loss, or anorexia?'" 

As for Leinninger, the collaboration holds a deeper and personal meaning.

"I have long wanted to study how neurotensin might be used to alleviate pain, but just didn't have the additional expertise to do so," she said, acknowledging Laumet's expertise in the neurobiology of pain. "Now I can funnel [my] original curiosity about how brain signals modify behavior to an important health problem that I've long been wanting to study. This is a realization of my lifelong academic and personal goals."

Empowering equitable learning through open educational resources

It started off as an anonymous poll asking if students were planning to purchase the course textbook or not.For Valerie Hedges, who teaches the two Introduction to Neuroscience courses (NEU 301 and 302), the results were shocking.

"I was surprised to learn that consistently, nearly a third of the students in the class would not be planning on purchasing the textbook, which would be used for the next two semesters," said Hedges, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology. "The poll also asked if the textbook was cost prohibitive, and about 25 percent of the students in the course indicated it was."

This got Hedges thinking about ways to close this gap and make the classroom more equitable for her students. Hedges embarked on a transformative endeavor that would culminate in her Open Educational Resource, or OER, textbook. The idea of OER is creating high-quality learning materials that are free to access and can be redistributed to others. The effort has resulted in a vast collection of textbooks, research papers, articles and interactive multimedia that cater to diverse educational needs.

For students, the advantages of free online texts are many. Financially disadvantaged learners can now breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they can access crucial learning materials without straining their limited budgets. 

Valerie Hedges at desk
Since Valerie Hedges' OER e-textbook, Introduction to Neuroscience, was published in December 2022, it has received more than 18,700 visitors. Last month alone, 1,900 visitors checked out the book.

"When I see the statistics on how many people are accessing my book daily, I know that this text is not only serving my students, but many people outside of MSU," Hedges said. "This has helped me reach my personal goal of removing the additional costs associated with my course and creating a more inclusive and equitable classroom environment."

Check out Hedges' e-book by visiting https://openbooks.lib.msu.edu/introneuroscience1/.
The Department of Physiology newsletter is published annually by the College of Natural Science for alumni and friends. Copyright 2023 Michigan State University. 

Send correspondence to:
MSU College of Natural Science
288 Farm Lane, Room 5
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 432-4561 | natsci4u@msu.edu

Contributing writers:
  • Karl Olson
  • Marguerite Halversen
  • Tyler Lee
  • Val Osowski
  • Laura Seeley
Images courtesy of:
  • Harley Seeley
  • Department of Physiology
  • Courtesy photos
  • Andrechek Lab
  • Stock
  • Robison Lab
  • Tyler Lee