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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
March 15, 2004
Volume 39, Number 13

Student Research
Outside the Box > > Adam Gomezitle

By Laurie Mellas Ramirez

Johnson and Gomez in the HSC neuroscience lab.In a crisp, white jacket, eye pressed to a microscope, UNM senior Adam Gomez looks the part of a medical researcher at work in a UNM Health Sciences Center neuroscience lab. Better yet, he is not acting.

A student in the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program (MBRS), under the supervision of Dr. Mary Johnson, Gomez studies effects on the nervous system from prenatal exposure to nicotine.

“Adam has learned just about everything I’d teach a Ph.D. or post doc student,” Johnson said. “Personally, I’ve found that undergraduates do very high level work. It’s important that they choose an area that interests them and that they get their own project once they get into the lab.”

Gomez was given the option to research the prenatal effects of alcohol.

“There has been more research conducted on the effects of alcohol. I wanted to expand the findings on nicotine concerning the mechanisms of cell loss and acute versus chronic treatments,” he said.

Researchers know that prenatal exposure to nicotine results in low birth weight and tremors. Long-term effects include delayed language development and behavioral disorders. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the infants are also at increased risk of developing respiratory problems and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In 1997-98, nearly 24 percent of new mothers smoked before pregnancy. The figure dropped to 11 percent in the last three months of pregnancy. Some 18 percent smoked after delivery.

To study the effects of nicotine on the peripheral nervous system, UNM researchers treat harvested cells with low or high concentrations of nicotine for 2, 6 or 14 days.

“This research forms the basis of further experiments to study cell loss and possible effects on the cell cycle. Exposing the cells to nicotine at different intervals helps determine the rate of cell loss,” Gomez said.

“If it’s a biochemical reaction and we understand the activating mechanism, for example, we could develop ways to ameliorate the effects,” Gomez said. “We can also determine if the cells become accustomed to nicotine with various doses and how they respond.”

In March, Gomez will present his findings at a Western Alliance for the Expanding Student Opportunities conference held in Phoenix. Last summer, he shared his research with members of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. Prior to graduating this spring with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, he plans to write and submit a paper on his findings to medical journals.

Since junior year, Gomez has taken part in the HSC’s Minority Biomedical Research Support Program, founded by the National Institutes of Health in 1972 to correct under representation of minorities in biomedical research.

The program is funded at UNM through an NIH Initiative for Minority Student Development grant, which supports students from the undergraduate level through the Ph.D. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. Students must be enrolled full time, working toward a degree in biology, biochemistry, chemistry or psychology, and meet GPA and other requirements.

Interested in medicine since childhood, Gomez, a Los Lunas native, hopes the UNM research experience will help him determine areas of interest and strengthen his application to medical school.

“The pursuit of medicine is tied to my faith and how I feel I can make the greatest difference. I can take what I’ve learned in school and the laboratory and apply it to the career I know will make me the happiest,” Gomez said.

Research symposium to feature undergraduates

The PROFOUND (Program of Research Opportunities FOr UNDergraduates) office at UNM will showcase undergraduate research at its first “Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium” on Monday, April 19, from noon to 6 p.m., in ballrooms A&B in the Student Union Building.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to show their work in front of a large group of students and faculty and to raise awareness across campus about their research,” said Theresa Lopez, PROFOUND coordinator. “We look forward to having a diverse group of students participate.”

The PROFOUND office is conducting a call for posters.

The deadline for online registration with a tentative poster title is Friday, March 12. Final title and abstract must be submitted via email by April 2. To register online visit www.unm.edu/~profound/celebration_registr.htm.

The symposium is intended to feature research in any discipline by undergraduates at UNM main and branch campuses. First place prizes will be awarded.

PROFOUND was established late last year to focus on student employment through research opportunities.
Call Theresa Lopez, 277-0528 or email profound@unm.edu.