May 03, 2017

Rising seniors Alexa Iannitelli, a dual neuroscience/psychology major from Stewartsville, N.J., and Summer Hackenburg, a dual biochemistry/biology major from Selinsgrove, Pa., have been named scholars to the McGrath Scholars Program, which supports summer research opportunities.

Iannitelli will spend her summer conducting immunohistochemistry analyses of the brain tissues of rats at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga. The undergraduate research assistant will work in the laboratory of David Weinshenker, a professor in the Department of Human Genetics, whose rodent studies are investigating the neurochemical and behavioral responses involved in drug addiction relapses.

“I really like taking my psychology background and finding the neurological reasons for different psychiatric disorders,” said Iannitelli, who-after she graduates next year-intends to earn a Ph.D. degree and pursue a research career. “But without the funding provided by the McGrath Scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to do this research this summer.”

Hackenburg will spend the summer working alongside Elizabeth Valentin, assistant professor of chemistry, at Susquehanna University.

The two will work to develop a technique to synthesize the naturally occurring Lobophorol A, a compound found in the brown alga Lobophora variegata that has been found to inhibit the growth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, a leading cause of skin and soft-tissue infections.

“We’re running out of antibiotics, which is a crisis, so developing a new drug from this process would be a step forward in addressing that problem,” Hackenburg said.

Hackenburg plans to earn a master’s degree in biochemistry after she graduates next year, and to pursue a career in research and drug development, ideally in the field of cancer research.

The McGrath Scholars Program honors Tom McGrath, emeritus professor of chemistry, and is supported by an endowment created by his former students and colleagues. McGrath was instrumental in establishing summer science research at Susquehanna. The research experiences can be conducted under the supervision of Susquehanna faculty or off campus at other academic institutions or in industry lab settings.

Students are selected as McGrath Scholars by a faculty committee based on the students’ qualifications to conduct the proposed research project, the quality of the proposed research and the impact of the experience on the future career plans of the student.