Spotlight on Research: Krasnow Researcher Opens Lab to Students

Posted: March 5, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

When Susan Bachus, a psychobiologist who joined the Psychology faculty and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study last August, was finally able to assemble the pieces of her lab in spacious quarters at the Krasnow Institute, she says, “I felt like a pig in mud. You couldn’t pry me out of here now with a crow bar.” Having conducted major research in makeshift quarters at her previous college, she couldn’t be happier with her new surroundings.

She’s also thrilled to be able to combine both teaching and research, which she feels is a synergistic and crucial relationship. “The teaching enhances the research, and vice versa,” she says, and she was excited to be able to open her new lab to the psychology class she taught last fall, the first time the Krasnow facilities were available to students in the program.

Photo of Sue Bachus lab

Bachus with student Ericka Burgos

Her class on histology, dealing with the cell structure of tissues discernible with the microscope, was able to benefit from her previous and ongoing research on the side effects of drugs taken to control schizophrenia. In some schizophrenia patients taking the drug haloperidol for many years, she explains, the side effects include a type of involuntary facial movement called tardive dyskinesia that can seriously impede social interactions and even the ability to eat or talk. In her previous lab where she had a rat colony, two-thirds of the rats were exposed to haloperidol. After six months–decades in a rat’s life–the rats’ brains were sectioned and the sections mounted on thousands of slides to view the long-term effects of the drug.

Even after her former students experimented with the slides, Bachus still had enough left over “for a couple of hundred experiments,” and she had her George Mason students come into the lab for “wet work” with the slides. Another first for Krasnow was having radioactive material in the lab, used in minute amounts to enhance visualization of the tiny brain structures.

One of her histology students, doctoral candidate Laura Smith, recently won a grant from Sigma Xi to support her research on the effects of maternal age on memory, and Smith will be working with Bachus using methods taught in the class, as well as with Jane Flinn, Psychology.

Flinn joined the students in the Krasnow lab and says that working with the radioactive material was something she hadn’t done before. She feels the lab work is an excellent complement to the behavioral side of the psychology curriculum. “Having someone with histological expertise is something that we’ve wanted for a long time,” Flinn says.

Photo of Bauchus Lab

Student David Laster, Bachus, and student Kellie Stanton at work in the Krasnow lab.

Bachus is now using the slides in her seminar on the biological aspects of mental illness and drug abuse this spring. “The wave of the future in psychology is the relationship between biology and psychology,” Bachus says. “Many people are working on this type of research, but I hope that what we’re doing may have some impact on improving people’s lives,” she says.

Krasnow Director James Olds says that opening the labs to students is one way the institute is “definitely getting our feet into academics. It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to be able to do hands-on research–that’s real science.”

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