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March 8, 2012

Jennifer Jungwirth | The Daily Republic

DWU senior to present at DC event

A Dakota Wesleyan University senior will head to the nation’s capital in April to present research through the South Dakota Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network.

Leah Miiller, a biochemistry major and psychology minor at Wesleyan, was one of 73 undergraduate students selected to present research at Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C., April 24. While at the conference, Miiller will meet with South Dakota congressional representatives. She was chosen out of 850 applicants nationwide.

SD BRIN works to develop a strong net work within South Dakota to enhance biomedical research through an interdisciplinary approach. Miiller worked with a team of researchers for 10 weeks last summer on the “Effects of Adolescent Bullying on Adult Cognitive Function.”

Miiller and her fellow researchers studied adolescent and adult male rat behavior. A group of younger rats was paired with aggressive adult male rats to study the psychiatric disorders that could result from bullying and persist into adulthood. After a series of experiments, it was found that bullying of the adult males was linked to decreased cognitive functioning in the prefrontal cortex of the brain of the adolescent rats, or the part of the brain that handles personality, decision-making and social behavior.

“That was fantastic news to hear that Leah’s abstract was accepted, especially given the highly competitive nature of the program,” said Miiller’s mentor, Dr. Mick Watt, of the University of South Dakota, in a SD BRIN news release. “Given the dedication she showed to the project on which her abstract is based, along with the fact that she wants to continue this line of research in the lab this summer, she truly deserves this recognition and will do a great job of promoting the importance of undergraduate research.”

Miiller, who said she plans to attend medical school or physician assistant school once she graduates, had no interest in the medical research field at first. Courses in abnormal psychology at Wesleyan and encouragement from university professor Dr. Brian Patrick pushed her to work at the SD BRIN lab. “I was interested in how when things aren’t working right in the brain, you are able to do experiments and figure out what could be going wrong,” Miiller said. She said research will play a large role in her future. “Research is as important of a component to the medical field as is being a doctor or PA,” Miiller said. Miiller will work in the same lab this summer and hopes that her group’s research will open the doors for future studies. “Hopefully they will realize that bullying has detrimental effects. It messes with brain chemistry,” Miiller said. “From these studies we hope to find ways to reverse these detrimental effects.”

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