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Kathy Rath MarrSeveral Lakeland College students enrolled in upper-level science courses this semester have been learning concepts before they hit the textbook thanks to pioneering research conducted by one of their teachers earlier this year.

Professor of Biology Kathy Rath Marr spent the spring 2013 semester on sabbatical working as visiting scientist in the Comparative Veterinary Pathology Lab at the Harvard Medical School – New England’s Primate Research Center in Southborough, Mass.

For more than three months, Rath Marr conducted important research in the Primate Center’s lab, and she spent time outside the lab meeting with several key researchers in the fields of HIV and Alzheimer’s disease. This fall, she’s been sharing what she learned with her students, giving them an opportunity to understand how a trained researcher works with cutting-edge technology.

Rath Marr analyzed tissue from the brains of healthy rhesus monkeys, and those that had been infected with SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

Previous research has documented that SIV- and HIV-infected monkeys in the later stages of HIV/SIV also exhibit Alzheimer’s disease. The presence of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) are markers that show cognitive impairment changes.

Rath Marr was identifying a way to find those markers in various regions of the brain so researchers can learn more about changing insulin levels with the goal of slowing down Alzheimer’s.

For Rath Marr, who’s in her 27th year at Lakeland, it was inspiring work. “It never occurred to me that I would get the chance to do cutting-edge research this late in my career,” she said. “These monkeys are so similar to humans in showing the same symptoms and progression of these diseases.

“This research opportunity has brought me a new and renewed sense of laboratory biology and an insightful look at state-of-the-art research that is broadening my teaching in my human anatomy/physiology and neurobiology classes.”

Rath Marr’s neurobiology class will cover memory pathways next week, and she will present her research data as part of the discussion. Students in scientific reading and analysis read and discussed three key research articles that precipitated her project.

During her sabbatical, Rath Marr provided the center with the protocol for some her research since it had not been previously performed. She also taught an intern how to perform the immunohistochemistry analysis so the research could continue.

In October, during Lakeland’s fall break, Rath Marr returned to Harvard to finish data analysis. She is currently writing an article about her work, which most likely will be published in the Journal of Primate Research.

Rath Marr’s work was set in motion by her daughter, Amanda Marr Podles, who did her post-doctoral research at the Primate Center.

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