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3 UI undergraduates named INI Summer Scholars

Three University of Iowa undergraduates, Dustin Fykstra, Spenser Pfannenstiel, and Hanxi Tang, have won the 2020 Iowa Neuroscience Institute Summer Scholar Awards.

The INI Summer Scholar Program supports Iowa undergraduates planning to pursue research during the summer in the lab of an INI faculty member. As INI Summer Scholars, the students receive a stipend of $5,000 and have the opportunity to attend a summer undergraduate seminar series and a variety of informal events. The INI Summer Scholar application process is highly competitive, and Fykstra, Pfannenstiel, and Tang stood out for the quality of their research plan, mentor endorsement, and academic performance.

Dustin FykstraFykstra works in the laboratory of Alex Bassuk, MD, PhD, professor of neurology. The laboratory has discovered a novel population of inhibitory neurons in the brainstem, called LJA5, that suppress capsaicin-induced pain and histamine-induced itch. Fykstra’s summer project aims to determine whether chemogenetic activation of LJA5 is sufficient for suppressing chronic inflammatory pain.





Spenser PfannenstielPfannenstiel works in the laboratory of Kai Hwang, PhD, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences. His project is focused on establishing a clear connection between behavioral inhibition and a neural signal as measured by EEG.  This contributes to the lab’s study of the neural substrate of distraction inhibition.





Hanxi TangTang works in the laboratory of Toshihiro Kitamoto, PhD, associate professor of anesthesia and neuroscience and pharmacology. She is working to elucidate how dietary modifications affect the nervous system to influence genetically-predisposed physiological and behavioral phenotypes. Tang uses the fruit fly Drosophila to examine the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying seizure-suppressing effects of certain dietary lipids on hyperexcitable mutants.



Psychiatric and neurological disorders are devastating to individuals, their families, and society. Created with the transformative grant of $45 million from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the INI seeks revolutionary discoveries in fundamental neuroscience to translate an understanding of how the brain works into clinical treatments for disorders of the brain and nervous system.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020