Collaborative faculty-student research brings real-world skills into graduate work of Brianna Bembenek ’22

Collaborative research work between Ripon College professors and a student has resulted in a conference presentation and publication in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

“Decrease in ER within the BNST of sexually naïve male rats following an encounter with a novel female” is available to read online for free for a limited time.

The senior author is Associate Professor of Biology Robin Forbes-Lorman, with collaboration by Associate Professor of Psychology Julia Meyers-Manor and Brianna Bembenek ’22, the first author, who did work for the project in Forbes-Lorman’s lab.

Bembenek now is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences with an emphasis in molecular pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Bembenek always had an interest in neuroscience research, so after taking Forbes-Lorman’s anatomy and physiology course, she inquired about summer research. It was her first time working in the field.

While many other research programs shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bembenek was able to continue her research on her own at home. “I had already gained some experience working in Dr. Robin’s lab during the previous semester, so it was not too difficult to get started with research independently,” she says.

“It was valuable experience learning how to work independently and troubleshoot on my own, and I also gained experience in behavioral analysis, image analysis, and manuscript preparation.”

The manuscript preparation was invaluable, she says. “As an undergraduate student, you typically are not given the opportunity to write the majority of a scientific article on your own. However, Dr. Robin allowed me to write the entirety of the manuscript, which was later heavily edited as part of the writing process.

“Being heavily involved in the writing process has definitely helped me so far in my career, as I have been able to become involved with manuscript preparation for other research projects and prepare multiple grants for submission.”

In her first external research presentation experience, she presented this work at the Midbrains conference held online during the pandemic in October 2020. “It demonstrated to me that I can present and understand my research,” Bembenek says.

She also networked with professors in the neuroscience field at a variety of graduate schools and secured a summer position at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

That same month, she also presented for the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience Research Virtual Symposium.

She received a Tribeta honor society research grant to help support her follow-up study during her senior year at Ripon.

Her thesis work for her Ph.D. will be based on her current research on pediatric DPD deficiency, where individuals with genetic variation in DPYD suffer severe developmental delay, hypotonia and neurological symptoms, such as epilepsy, microcephaly and delayed development of motor skills.

“As of right now, there is no known cause for this disease, so my research has been focusing on the molecular mechanisms contributing to neurological symptom onset in these pediatric patients,” she says.

After graduating in the spring/summer of 2027, Bembenek hopes to work for a pharmaceutical company in drug development and design, specifically seeking to develop novel therapeutics focusing on the cure of neurological-related disorders, such as chemotherapy-related neurotoxicity or Alzheimer’s disease.

(Photo: Brianna Bembemek ’22 working in the lab at Mayo Clinic)

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