These are the mysteries Biological Sciences Professor Sepehr Eskandari is trying to solve. Perhaps the key is understanding the behavior of the transport proteins that regulate the brain concentration of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short. GABA balances neuron activity in the brain.
Overexcited neurons can cause seizures, and underactivity may induce
a coma. By regulating the brain concentration of GABA, epileptic
seizures can be prevented.
“Our work has implications for treating epilepsy and also
understanding other proteins that are involved in regulating the levels
of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. For example,
serotonin levels can be managed by Prozac, which is used to treat
depression,” Eskandari says.
Funded by a $1.28 million NIH grant, Eskandari’s mission is to
identify and develop compounds that can target the GABA transporters,
the proteins that regulate GABA levels in the brain. Bachelor’s and
master’s students study the behavior of transport proteins found in the
nervous system and how they react to different drugs.
Eskdandari believes that it’s important for students to be involved
in research projects, so they can learn about designing experiments,
analyzing data and writing articles for publication. It’s also a chance
for students to learn cutting-edge technologies that aren’t necessarily
taught in class.
Just as he and other Cal Poly Pomona faculty are focused on
advancing health research, they are also mindful of developing future
Eskandari explains: “When undergraduates get exposed to research,
they can see if they’re interested in the subject or the process of
research. For master’s students, research projects are a really
important steppingstone, especially for those interested in going to a
Ph.D. program. If we can expose them to something that’s new or
cutting-edge, then their skills will be relevant, whether they work in
a pharmaceutical company or pursue a higher degree.”
Welcome to the world of health-related research at Cal Poly Pomona,
where teacher-scholars guide students through extraordinary hands-on
learning experiences. Their to-do list is daunting but exhilarating:
disabling harmful bacteria, using stem cells to study side effects of
drugs, simplifying the management of diabetes, understanding the causes
of epilepsy. One experiment at a time, they add to the knowledge base
of the academic community, never overstate their findings and are
always excited by the possibilities. This article is the conclusion of
a series on health-related research at Cal Poly Pomona.