Summer Research Aims to Help End Alzheimer’s

Dr. Yi-Fan Lu with student research Heidi Pullmann

Dr. Yi-Fan Lu with student researcher Heidi Pullmann

Westmont researchers are using a new high-tech tool to understand human neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. As part of a summer research project, Yi-Fan Lu, Westmont assistant professor of biology, and senior Heidi Pullmann used the new microelectrode array, purchased through the Westmont Provost’s Office, to detect and record the response of neurons to genetic mutation or toxins. Westmont’s academic program gives students opportunities to work directly with faculty on research and scholarly projects.

Pullmann and 22 other students will present their findings at the Celebration of Summer Research on Friday, Sept. 21, at 3:30 p.m. in Westmont’s Winter Hall Atrium. Lu will offer live demonstrations with the MED64 Presto, “Monitor Neuronal Activities in Real Time: A Novel Tool for Modeling Neurological Disorders and Drug Discovery,” at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. in Winter Hall, room 331, in the psychology wing.

“The microelectrode array can also be used to screen for new drugs, examining if any compounds have reversed the effect of the mutation or the toxin to the neurons,” Lu says. “This equipment has the power to push neurological disorder research to the next level in 20 years and potentially discover new drugs for many diseases that currently have no cure.”

Student researcher Heidi Pullmann

Student researcher Heidi Pullmann

Lu and Kristi Cantrell, associate professor of chemistry at Westmont, are collaborating with colleagues at UC Santa Barbara to examine peptides that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This summer, Lu worked with Heidi Pullmann, a Westmont senior biology major from Florence, South Carolina, testing four shorter tau peptide variants.

“I hope this research will lead to the advancement of the understanding of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The project that we are working on is part of a much larger study into the mechanisms of the disease, and I would love to contribute to the knowledge of the scientific community. Scientific advancement typically happens in small increments, but I hope that what we are doing is an important one.”

After graduating in May, Pullmann is interested in furthering her education at graduate school pursuing agricultural and plant sciences. “I am interested in developing better ways to grow plants through plant genetics or agricultural technologies,” she says, “and in aiding in discoveries that can help end world hunger too.”