Laboratory Research

Approximately half of the students in the MS Program in Pharmacology choose to have a laboratory experience as a part of the degree. Choosing the Research Option (Concentration in Research) allows the student to be engaged in a research project in both the fall and spring semesters and to complete the requirement for the Concentration in Research. 

Please note: There are no paid research positions in the department for MS students.  Laboratory research is done for credit and is completely unpaid.  Our program also does not have any teaching assistantships or research assistantships.

In the fall, both Tuesdays and Thursdays are free, and in the Spring, every afternoon of the week is free. Students will be added to PHAR906 (Research) for 2 credits in the fall semester and PHAR907 (Research) for 5 credits in the spring semester once they find a research mentor within the department (see below).  Expectations of students in PHAR906 & PHAR907.

Choosing a research mentor: (Click on M.S. Mentors) lists faculty who have successfully mentored previous M.S. students.   You can contact anyone on this list to determine if there is space in the lab.    If you wish to work in a lab not listed, permission from the program director is required in advance.

The purpose of the laboratory experience is to give the student exposure to 'real science'. Many MS students already have some laboratory experience and this is a chance to increase that portion of your CV. Students become engaged in a research project that is either ongoing or new. The project is discussed at the beginning of the fall, papers are given to allow the student to learn more about the research area and specific project and then daily or weekly meetings are used to keep track of progress and to troubleshoot problems. Usually MS students work with someone advanced in laboratory skills, such as a PhD student, a post-doc, or a Research Professor. Students who plan to go on to a PhD program or work in a laboratory-based position in biotech or big pharma are strongly encouraged to do the Research Option.

To inquire about doing the Research Option, contact the Program Director as early as possible to begin the process of connecting with a research mentor.  Additionally, students doing the Research Option need to take mandatory Lab Safety & Radiation Safety sessions in late August. This is in addition to the General Orientation Session in late August. If you will be doing a project involving animals, you must attend an orientation session given by the Department of Comparative Medicine (687-1676). 

Near the end of the academic year, usually in April, students participating in the Research Option prepare and present a poster at a session held in the Pharmacology Library. This is an excellent way to learn about scientific presentations and gives the opportunity to 'bring it all together' at the end.


Examples of M.S. student research (Fall 2019)

Faculty Mentor Lab Research 

Pak / Schneeweis

I have been working with Ph.D. candidate Amanda Schneeweis on studying Alzheimers disease by looking at tau protein and other related proteins that are expressed during hyperexcitable conditions, induced with picrotoxin, in transgenic mice and rats. After sacrificing our model organism, incising out the hippocampus and treating it appropriately to quantify, we run western blots and immunoprecipitation assays to determine expression levels.


My project for this semester is to prepare various Alzheimer's Disease mutations with plasmid DNA. By the end of all the cloning experiments, we will insert these mutations into Drosophila DNA and use the Alzheimer model flies in research that involve CRISPR technology.


This semester I am learning several lab techniques and procedures, including different assays to help characterize and quantify different receptors in the brain and their activities. I am also working on optimizing Western blot techniques to analyze brown fat samples to apply later in nicotinic, thermogenesis and obesity studies.


The first part of the semester we have focused on learning various skills to run western blots and norepinephrine release assays. I have spent the majority of my time focusing on the effects of glutamate and amphetamine on NMDA receptors in the cortex. This is measured through the release of norepinephrine. We plan to add various drugs to determine the effects of release in the upcoming weeks/months.


I am working on a project involving the decline of Glutamate stimulated release of Norepinephrine in aged rats. I have been involved with the behavioral experiments, specifically the Spontaneous T-Maze behavioral paradigm, where we are looking at the cognitive differences in young versus old rats to see if there is a correlation with our release assays which look at the differences in Norepinephrine release.


Examples of M.S. student research (Fall 2018)

Faculty Mentor Lab Research 

Vicini / Sahibzada

My lab work is mainly focused on the Dorsal Vagal Complex (DVC) in the brainstem and its various modulatory pathways. Through stereotaxic and laparoscopic surgeries (along with and under the guidance of Dr. Niaz Sahibzada), patch-clamp experiments and data analysis (along with and under the guidance of Dr. Stefano Vicini), I am evaluating the network dynamics of excitatory and inhibitory cells originating from and projecting to critical brainstem nuclei (including the DMV and NTS) and controlling peripheral organs. 

Pak / Andre

During my time in the Pak Lab, I have been creating neuronal and astrocyte cell cultures, learning the techniques of Immunocytochemistry for studying the localization of proteins that are involved in Alzheimer's Disease, and understanding the importance of research and the lessons I can apply to my career goals of becoming a physician. I am participating in research that studies the homeostatic plasticity of neurons and the relationship between the enzyme PLK2, and the neurotransmitter glutamate, in neurons and astrocytes and the formation of A-beta plaques and their contributions to the pathology of Alzheimer's Disease, a disease whose mechanism is still poorly understood.

Suzuki / Shults

The laboratory is focused on studying pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) & right ventricular failure. My project involves experiments comparing the effect that PAH has on mitochondria total area and total number of cristae (partitions in mitochondria).


My project is using multiple techniques of molecular biology to analyze the effect of certain risk factor genes on the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease, and determining how the enzyme PLK2 effects the degradation of N-Cadherin, which helps form synapses between neurons.


I am currently learning a surgery called a laparotomy on mice to apply dyes to the stomach. The dyes will be taken up by the axons of the brain neurons that project there and be visible several days later in cell bodies in the brain. During the rest of the semester I hope to perfect this surgery, and apply it to experimental animals.