St. Mary’s University undergraduate biological sciences students Noel Shaheen, a senior, and Audrey Avila, a junior, are conducting graduate-level work through a highly competitive research program at the University of Texas Health Science Center of San Antonio.

Shaheen and Avila were accepted into the South Texas Advanced Research Training Undergraduate Program (START-UP), a program funded through the National Institutes for Health to give advanced research opportunities to undergraduate students interested in pursuing doctoral programs in neuroscience. The program aims to allow the San Antonio area students opportunities for groundbreaking experimental research.

The St. Mary’s students are working with St. Mary’s Professor Colette Daubner, Ph.D., and Paul Fitzpatrick, PhD., of the Department of Biochemistry at UTHSCSA, to determine how certain enzymes are regulated, controlling levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This could have implications for Parkinson’s disease patients, since dopamine levels are decreased in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, making tyrosine hydroxylase a possible drug target.

Daubner said that she is proud Shaheen and Avila have been accepted into the prestigious program, and that they are dedicated to research that seeks to answer important medical questions. “They continue to impress me with their insight, hard work, and independent thought. Both of them hope to make careers in medical research, perhaps very clinical research, or maybe more basic, but with direct impact on solving problems of human disease,” Daubner said.

In addition to research, the students have seminar opportunities and workshops that will help them reach their goals of entering neuroscience graduate programs after leaving St. Mary’s.

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