Raine Lunde-Young, a second-year doctoral student in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology (VTPP), has been selected to receive the Kenneth Warren Merit Award for her late-breaking and novel abstract entitled “Prenatal alcohol exposure produces sex-dependent patterns of gene disruption and molecular pathways in the fetal hippocampus.”
Lunde-Young accepted the award on June 16 in San Diego at the annual meeting for the Research Society on Alcoholism.
Each year the Kenneth Warren Merit Award is presented for outstanding research in the field of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) to either a graduate student, post-baccalaureate health professions student, or a fellow who is a member of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Study Group (FASDSG).
“It meant a lot coming from that really focused group of specialists,” Lunde-Young said. “I’ve worked in FASD research for so long, so to be recognized by this group of talented individuals really meant a lot to me. It was very validating.”
Lunde-Young discovered her passion for FASD research as an undergraduate at Texas A&M.
“I decided to stick with this field because there is no cure and no approved treatment for FASD,” she said. “By doing these studies, hopefully, down the road, we can find therapeutic intervention strategies to improve the quality of life for these children. It’s a life-long affliction that goes well into adulthood, so I think it’s a valid cause.”
For the award-winning work, Lunde-Young focused on how alcohol exposure during development affects protein expression and gene expression in the hippocampal formation, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.
“We were interested in finding the molecular pathways associated with these genes and proteins that were dysregulated following developmental exposure. Our protein analysis was performed utilizing state-of-the-art mass spectrometry, followed by transcriptome-level analyses utilizing RNA sequencing,” she said. “Then we did what is called ingenuity pathway analyses that identify over-represented functional and canonical pathways.”
Lunde-Young continued her study by taking the research one step further—exploring the sex-specific differences in the developing hippocampal formation after alcohol exposure.
“We observed that these molecular pathways in the hippocampus that are critical for learning and memory are differentially altered in males and females following developmental alcohol exposure,” she said.
“I expected there to be some differences, but I really didn’t have any expectations (when I began the study). Our observation was pretty surprising and interesting because it makes the story a little more complex than it already is,” Lunde-Young said. “If you would have asked me about gender differences before, I would have told you no (there weren’t any), but they were very apparent.”
Jayanth Ramadoss, a faculty member in VTPP, recruited Lunde-Young to work in his lab during her master’s program in biomedical sciences. Ramadoss said he routinely works to foster the kind of innovation that earned Lunde-Young the merit award in his lab.
“Scientists trained in our lab are immersed in an educational environment that nurtures their enthusiasm and creativity in multiple facets of physiology. The lab environment is conducive for training in communication and empowering the students to enhance their own strengths,” Ramadoss said. “The research infrastructure, in conjunction with access to state-of-the-art technologies, is strategically designed to provide trainees with a solid foundation from which to augment and enhance their critical-thinking skills, problem solving, decision-making abilities, and hands-on laboratory experience essential for advancing along a successful career path.”
Through these efforts, Ramadoss has seen first-hand the dedication Lunde-Young has for her research, and he knows just how prestigious this award is.
“The selection committee could have selected one of the post-docs who have more training, but they selected her,” Ramadoss said. “That’s why my lab constructs individually tailored training protocols to ensure proficiency in research techniques and build the foundation on which to pursue their future scientific goals.”
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; email@example.com; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)