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National Institutes of Health Awards RIC Grant for Neuroscience Research

The NIH grant research team includes Travis Dumais, Steven Threlkeld, Keyshla Melendez, Cynthia Gaudet, Stephanie Chauvin, Zahra Melendez and Matt Hall.

The NIH grant research team includes Travis Dumais, Steven Threlkeld, Keyshla Melendez, Cynthia Gaudet, Stephanie Chauvin, Zahra Melendez and Matt Hall.

 

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Rhode Island College a grant of $329,762 for a neuroscience research project that will be led by RIC psychology professor Steven Threlkeld. The grant is designed to enhance academic research capacity and fund competitive projects aimed at improving human health. Threlkeld’s research seeks to assess the relative influences of anti-inflammatory intervention, with a protein treatment and early life behavioral training in areas of auditory processing and learning with the aim of reducing problems associated with brain injury in premature infants.

“We know that behavioral outcomes are poor for pre-term infants,” Threlkeld said. “Between 50 and 80 percent of those infants who have some kind of brain trauma go on to exhibit language problems, cognitive deficiencies or learning disabilities.”

Threlkeld previously worked with Dr. Yow-Pin Lim of ProThera Biologics, an East Providence biomedical startup, and Dr. Barbara Stonestreet, director of the Fellowship in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Women & Infants Hospital. He conducted his post-doctoral research with Dr. Stonestreet and in 2011 looked at the effect of anti-inflammatory intervention in neonatal brain ischemia – a restriction in blood supply that causes a shortage of oxygen. This work was funded through an IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence grant. With the new funding, Threlkeld will lead a team of students to expand on previous findings while enhancing the Rhode Island College undergraduate educational experience.

“My philosophy is that teaching and research are tightly linked and I couldn’t do one without the other,” Threlkeld said. “I couldn’t see myself doing research full time and not mentoring people or trying to excite or pass on that knowledge to the next generation.”

Part of the NIH grant will fund students who will assist in Threlkeld’s research, which he believes addresses a disconnect in work investigating options for treating brain injury in at risk infants. Most research focuses on either preventative drug treatments or early behavioral therapy. He said he is seeking to establish whether a combination of the two approaches is more effective than either one alone.

The testing will be conducted on rodents, which Threlkeld said would allow his team to induce and study pathology typically seen in pre-term infants.  This research will also help to reinforce the importance of early diagnosis in brain-injured infants. “The truth is that no matter how good any neurological treatment might be, catching the window to diagnose, test and treat a child with a brain injury, is critical for insuring optimal outcomes. Unfortunately, many infants may miss the optimal window,” he said. “The idea here is that in combining parallel lines of research, we may be able to improve outcomes despite these challenges.”

Threlkeld has been a professor at RIC since 2010 and specializes in teaching research methods in experimental psychology and behavioral neuroscience. He is also the coordinator for RIC’s minor in behavioral neuroscience. Threlkeld holds a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Connecticut.

Research highlighted in this article was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15HD077544.