Murray State University senior Rebecca Cunningham is continuing study at MSU following her participation in the Amgen Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., this past summer.

Cunningham, who is from Louisville, Ky., is a biomedical sciences major with a minor in chemistry.

The Amgen Scholars program provided fully funded, hands-on scientific research experiences to undergraduate students from 10 universities in the United States and three in Europe. It ran for its seventh summer in 2013.

Cunningham studied myelination of the peripheral nervous system in zebrafish. Myelin is an insulating layer around nerves that help conduct electric pulses down the nerves. Myelination of the peripheral nervous system is the insulating layer around nerves that are outside the brain and spinal cord. In the peripheral nervous system, cells that make myelin are called Schwann cells. The gpr126 protein is essential to make Schwann cells completely myelinate nerves. So, without gpr126, nerves exhibit less myelin, meaning that the necessary conduction of the electric pulses is compromised.

Over the summer, Cunningham worked on a genetic screen trying to find genes that interact with gpr126 that either resulted in increased or decreased myelination of the peripheral nervous system.

It is important to study myelin formation because without myelin, electric pulses cannot travel down nerves efficiently. Neurodegenerative diseases can result from a decrease in myelin. Understanding how myelin forms may one day result in ways to help people who have myelin disorders.

“After finding out I was chosen to participate in the program at Washington University in St. Louis, I was excited, grateful and humbled. I looked forward to working in a lab at a research university and learning more about a career in biomedical research,” Cunningham said.

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