2014 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize Awardees

May 14, 2014

This year's recipients of the 2014 Walt and Bobbi Makous Prize:

  • Brittany Hopkins, a Neuroscience senior working in Dr. Ania Majewska's laboratory
  • Andrew Bui, a Neuroscience junior working in Dr. Lin Gan's laboratory

Brittany and Andrew will receive award certificates (and checks for $700) at a College-wide award ceremony on Saturday, May 17.

Below are descriptions of their research and other accomplishments.

Brittany Hopkins

Brittany Hopkins

Brittany's research explores animal models that are used to study the behavior of microglia which are the brain's immune cells. Microglia have recently been shown to be very dynamic in the brain in the absence of an immune challenge and may contribute to non-immune brain processes such as learning and memory. To explore this dynamic role microglia need to be labeled with a fluorescent protein that can be imaged in the intact brain. While it is largely assumed that these fluorescent microglia behave like normal microglia, few studies have tried to assess this. Brittany has shown that fluorescent microglia in two different transgenic lines of mice are very similar to normal microglia. This allows the imaging of the microglia in these mice to further understand new and exciting roles that microglia may play in the brain. 

Brittany is a neuroscience major with a minor in Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Brittany has had a strong academic career, she is on the Dean's List and has received a Dean's scholarship for her studies. Brittany also has many interests outside of academics and has been heavily involved in Campus Activities Board (CAB), which is responsible for planning campus wide events, like the community weekends and comedians, for the River Campus. She also gives back to the university community as a teaching assistant.

Brittany now adds another honor to her list of accomplishments. She has been awarded the Walt and Bobbi Makous undergraduate research prize for her unwavering commitment to scientific research. Since her junior year, Brittany has worked in the department of Neurobiology and Anatomy on an independent research project in the lab of Dr. Ania Majewska. She was also awarded the prestigious Center for Visual Science undergraduate summer research fellowship to continue her work full-time during the summer. During her senior year she wrote and successfully defended a Senior Thesis to earn a Distinction in Research on her degree. She was also chosen to present a poster on her research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research this spring. During the last few years Brittany has worked on characterizing two transgenic mouse lines that label microglia, the CX3CR1-GFP line and the YA line. The Majewska lab, along with many other labs that study microglia in the brain, utilizes these transgenic lines for in vivo imaging studies. Thus, Brittany's project was critical in determining if the microglia in these transgenic lines mimic wild-type microglial behavior. She showed that both of the transgenic lines have an unchanged microglial density in primary visual cortex. She used microglial morphology as a way to assess microglial behavior in fixed tissue and found that both lines had some morphological deviation from normal morphology but that these changes were small in magnitude. She was also able to characterize how well the fluorescent genetic label represents microglia. Overall she was able to show that both of the transgenic lines are great tools for fluorescently labeling microglia and are extremely useful for in vivo imaging, although for different purposes. For her study, Brittany has to master numerous scientific techniques, including immunohistochemistry, confocal and epifluorescent imaging and fluorescent analysis. Her work culminated in a first-author manuscript that is current being prepared for publication. Brittany is looking forward to her next challenge. In the fall she will enroll in the Northwestern University's Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD program.

Andrew Bui

Andrew BuiAndrew's research has shown that the LIM-homeodomain transcription factor LHX9 is expressed exclusively in a subset of amacrine cells. This was a remarkable discovery since the expression of LHX9 in the mammalian retina has not been fully characterized until now.

Andrew Bui is a neuroscience major and just finished his third year at the University of Rochester. Andrew is heavily involved in the university and this is seen through his extracurricular activities. He is Co-President of the Brain and Cognitive Science and Neuroscience Undergraduate Council, as well as a study group leader for organic chemistry I and II through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and an organic chemistry laboratory teaching assistant. He is also a McNair Scholar and was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program in the summer of 2013. Outside the university, he also finds the time to give back to the community whenever he can. He volunteered as a tutor through the Upward Bound Program, helping low-income students who are enrolled in the Rochester City School District become the first members of their families to attend college as well as volunteered at Strong Memorial Hospital in the Emergency Department. To share his joy for neuroscience, he also volunteered in the Brain Awareness Campaign where he traveled to local elementary schools to teach students about the brain through fun and interactive games and activities during the month of March.

Andrew now adds another honor to his list of accomplishments. He has been awarded the Walt and Bobbi Makous undergraduate research prize for his unwavering commitment to scientific research. Since his freshmen year he has been working in the department of Ophthalmology in the lab of Dr. Lin Gan. In December 2013, he was published as a second author for his work in the expression of LIM-homeodomain transcription factors in the developing and mature mouse retina. His research centered on the expression of LHX9. Little is known about the expression of LHX9, other than a brief report of it being expressed in the inner nuclear layer of the developing Xenopus retina. Using in-situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, he demonstrated that LHX9 is expressed exclusively in a subset of amacrine cells. This was a remarkable discovery since the expression of LHX9 in the mammalian retina has not been further characterized until now. Andrew is looking forward to his final year at the University of Rochester and hopefully will have one more publication under his belt before he graduates.