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Loyola biology faculty receive National Science Foundation grant to fund confocal microscope

| By Nick Alexopulos

Two Loyola University Maryland biology faculty members, Associate Professor Rebecca Brogan, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Christopher Thompson, Ph.D., have received a $273,698 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund the acquisition of a laser scanning confocal microscope (LSCM). The new technology, which the professors expect to bring to campus by September, offers two significant benefits for researchers: the ability to image cells and tissues in 3D, and the ability to follow the movement and changes of molecules in cells in real time.

“It’s very uncommon for an undergraduate-focused university like Loyola to have an LSCM on campus,” said Brogan. “These are typically found only at Research I and Research II institutions, and can only be accessed by other faculty through collaborative arrangements and for a few hundred dollars an hour.”

Brogan and Thompson’s grant proposal highlighted the range of projects that will benefit immediately from the LSCM, including five led by Loyola faculty and three by faculty at Towson University, Mount St. Mary’s University, and Washington College, who will be able to access the new equipment at Loyola.

“When we first started working on the grant, we wanted to make it clear that this microscope can be used in wide variety of fields,” said Thompson.

Thompson, for example, will use the LSCM to continue his work exploring the impact of herbal medicines on cell function, monitoring the extent to which specific treatments change the shape and activation state of cells. Brogan, who studies the metabolic regulation of reproduction, will consider the effects of diet on pre-ovulatory eggs. Other projects include examinations of cell death through exposure to wasp venom, drug resistance in breast cancer stem cells, and the disruption of bacterial biofilms by exposure to certain medical and environmental conditions.

All of the participating faculty members, at Loyola and those from other institutions, are expected to involve undergraduate students heavily in their research. “Together, the eight faculty members will have about 12-14 students per year working with the LSCM,” said Thompson. “To have access to an LSCM at this stage of their educations will set these students apart from their peers at other institutions, and once they become proficient in its use, they will become trainers themselves, and gain further experience helping and training other students. By working in our labs, they’ll cultivate a competitive edge whether they’re thinking of going on to graduate or medical school, an academic career, or directly into the workforce.”

This award marks Loyola’s second National Science Foundation grant in 2012. The other supports a physics professor’s efforts to develop physics of medicine course materials. Additionally, Loyola is currently participating in the creation of a national mentoring network for women faculty in the sciences as part of an NSF grant centered at Gonzaga University.

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