Professor receives grant for neuron science

Emily Moran

Aaron Jasnow, an assistant professor of the psychology department at Kent State University, received a three-year grant worth $225,000 to study neuron science last month.

Jasnow said the Whitehall Foundation awarded him the three-year grant for his studies on neural circuits, which regulate the inhibition of long-term fear memories.

“We are working specifically with the neurons and cells that respond when animals are afraid,” Jasnow said.

To do this study, Jasnow uses behavioral tests on mice as a guide. He said the goal of these experiments is to reduce the fear responses in the mice and see if fear can be subdued.

He hopes the experiments and scientific data he collects can go on to help humans, Jasnow said. If they can isolate the genes expressed in brain cells, they might be able to help humans therapeutically with disorders caused by fear – possibly post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Our goal is to map out how cells are in a position to inhibit fear and how they are connected to other parts of the brain,” Jasnow said.

The Whitehall Foundation is a corporation that funds professors early on in their careers and is primarily interested in “neural basis behavior,” Jasnow said. It takes steps to fund those who are researching or investigating how to better understand the brain and behavior.

“Behavioral Neuroscience as a field is concerned with the biological bases of behavior,” said Jocelyn R. Folk, associate professor in the psychology department at Kent State.

She said, as a whole, neuroscientists study a broad range of topics.

“Their research interests range from understanding the cellular mechanisms of fear learning, investigating biological causes of obesity, schizophrenia, learning, cognition, and many other topics,” Folk said.

According to the Whitehall Foundation website, in order to be eligible for a grant, the applicant must be an assistant professor or higher, must “hold principal investigator status” and must be considered an independent applicant. In order to be an independent applicant, the website said, he or she must have his or her own lab space for independent investigation.

Jasnow said he plans to use the money received from the grant to perform more experiments, build upon data, buy equipment to perform more experiments, purchase more mice, and also fund students, chemicals, and other lab materials for the psychology department.

Jasnow, once a music major at Kent State, said he changed his major when he found an interest in how the brain responds to stress.

“I fell in love with the idea of brain function and behavior,” he said.

Now as an assistant professor in the psychology department, Jasnow said his favorite part of the job is interacting and talking with the students in the department and doing the experiments.

The grant will help depict Kent State as a growing university, particularly in the neuroscience field, he said. Kent State also offers a strong behavioral science program and the department is good at supporting experiments.

“Hopefully the grant will attract more students,” Jasnow said.

Contact Emily Moran at [email protected].