FEST Winner Links Brain Chemistry to Behavior
Photo by Melissa Maki
Jill Venton joined the University of Virginia as Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 2005 after completing a Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina and serving as a National Institute of Health fellow at the University of Michigan. Venton won a Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST) Distinguished Young Investigator Grant award for her proposal “Monitoring fast neurochemical changes using capillary electrophoresis with electrochemical detection.” Essentially, Venton works on linking brain chemistry to behavior.
“What we are really trying to do is understand the basics of neurotransmission,” said Venton, noting that traditional measurements in neuroscience have been made by analyzing the amount of neurotransmitters in a fluid sample, a tedious process that can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Venton pointed out how quickly humans think and make decisions, suggesting that a great amount of information is lost in that time frame.
Venton’s lab is working towards real-time neurotransmitter analysis, “The main goal of my lab is to develop new ways of measuring neurotransmitters in vivo,” she said. “We are really pushing the technology.” Utilizing novel instrumentation that will apply voltage to the brain, Venton expects to dramatically cut the analysis time- from 10 to 20 minutes- 10 to 20 seconds.
Venton’s hope is that her research will have “broad implications to be used by a large community of scientists.” According to Venton, one practical application of her research may include the ability to better understand the changes in neurotransmission that take place with intravenous drug abuse, since the IV method allows drugs to effect the body at a high rate of speed.
The FEST funding will be used to develop the instrumentation to accomplish these tasks from scratch. Venton will probably hire a post-doctoral researcher to assist with this formidable mission.