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Kopcza Studies the Pharmacology of Alcohol on Fruit Flies

Feb. 1, 2007

EASTON, Pa. ( - Trustee Scholar Karolyn Kopcza '07 is working on research using fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) to investigate the development of tolerance in alcohol-dependent humans to different drugs that are known to or are believed to decrease alcohol intake.

"Although we know that these drugs have an effect on people, we are not entirely sure why they work," explains Kopcza, a neuroscience major. "By examining the effect in Drosophila, I hope to find a possible explanation for the effect in humans."

Kopcza's honors thesis project began as a genetic study on alcoholism. After some research, however, her interest began to take a new turn.

"I initially wanted to study alcohol behavior and alcoholism from a genetic perspective," she says. "As I began my research, I found studies dealing with the pharmacology of alcohol and how it interacts with other drugs, specifically Campral, which is one of the drugs I plan on using in my experiments. This drug is being administered to humans because it does have the effect of lowering alcohol intake in dependent humans, but it is not understood why it works. Without knowing how this drug works, how are we supposed to understand potential adverse affects of this drug? This is the question I hope to address through my thesis."

Guiding Kopcza on this project is Elaine Reynolds, associate professor of biology and co-chair of neuroscience.

"Karolyn is a very strong classroom student who is going to dental school next year. The project will require her to apply her knowledge to the development of research. Hopefully, this type of learning will help her apply her knowledge in other contexts, such as in professional school and in her professional practice," says Reynolds.

Lafayette is an excellent research environment and provides projects of great magnitude to undergraduate students, Kopcza explains. She also couldn't be more pleased with her major.

"Lafayette is still considered one of the pioneers of the neuroscience major, one that is now rapidly growing in popularity. This major is what drew me to Lafayette, and is one of my top reasons for choosing this school," she says. "The neuroscience program is very good, and over my four years here, I feel that the department has worked extensively with the students to make the program even better."

"This opportunity to do honors is unique as compared to other courses. These types of projects are possible at Lafayette because of monetary support from the neuroscience program and because of the faculty's dedication to this type of teaching," Reynolds says.

Kopcza is vice president of marketing for Alpha Phi sorority and captain of varsity cheerleading. She is also a member of the national psychology honor society Psi Chi, Neuroscience Club, and HIV/AIDS Awareness Club. A tour guide for the admissions office, she has been teaching ballet and tap to mentally and physically handicapped children for almost 10 years.

Last year, she worked as a research assistant for Stephen Lammers, Manson Professor of Religious Studies. In 2005, she spent seven weeks in London through the College's interim abroad program. While in London, she took a class in ethical and social issues in the United States and United Kingdom, and completed an internship at the Mildred Creak Unit of the Great Ormond Street Hospital, an inpatient ward for children with various mood disorders, eating disorders, and somatoform disorders.

Selected from among Lafayette's top applicants, Trustee Scholars like Kopcza have distinguished themselves through exceptional academic achievement in high school. Lafayette provides them with an annual minimum scholarship of $7,500 ($8,000 effective with the Class of 2009) or a grant in the full amount of their demonstrated need if the need is more than $7,500.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 40 students were accepted to present their research at this year's conference.