VBRN News & Highlights

Faculty Collaborators Funded For Stress-In-Space Study

Story by: Mark Tarnacki

(Drs. Tomasulo and Loisel have received funding from the Vermont Biomedical Research Network.)

Saint Michael’s College faculty collaborators Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of neuroscience/ psychology and Dagan Loisel of biology learned this week that a “small-scale research grant” of $50,000 through Vermont Space Grant Consortium for which they applied earlier this year has been funded in full. The goal of the study funded by this grant is to identify stress-relieving countermeasures that astronauts could use during long-duration space missions to reduce stress and the resultant immune dysregulation.

 “We plan to study stress-induced reactivation and shedding of latent herpes viruses in college students as a terrestrial analog to determine if stress-relieving activities (e.g. guided meditation delivered through virtual navigation) alter the dynamics of this viral shedding,” Tomasulo said. “We will be collaborating with Dr. Brian Crucian, Lead Immunologist, and Dr. Satish Mehta, Virologist, who are scientists from NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) at Johnson Space Center. NASA’s HRP offered to match our grant funding if we were successful with our application, so the total award is for $50,000. While we are professionally and personally excited about this project, we hope this award will also have a direct impact on Saint Michael’s College.  It is not common for a small, liberal arts and sciences college to have this opportunity.”

She said the project came about because of collaborative work she and Loisel did on the new Saint Michael’s Introduction to Health Sciences course this past fall. “During our unit on the biological effects of stress on the body, we presented a NASA study by Dr. Crucian, which investigated the effects of stress during space flight on the immune system, and then got to thinking. We look forward to involving students in this project and having our research further inform our teaching. This is a demonstration of interdisciplinary research at its finest.”

Tomasulo said she and Loisel “understand that the impact of Covid-19 on this project is unknown, but for now, we are relishing in the accomplishment.”

Angela Irvine, the College’s director of advancement programs, said, “This is a significant grant well beyond the dollars.  These collaborations are one of the most effective ways for faculty at Saint Michael’s to build their research program and make important connections that will lead to larger awards in the future. The collaborative model is true for all disciplines. I hope that we can continue to support and encourage faculty across the College to find opportunities to support their scholarship and engage students in these experiences. We all benefit from the success of these awards.”

The Vermont Space Grant Consortium (VTSGC) is an organization consisting of academic institutions, private industry, and public entities. Funded by a grant from NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, key goals of the VTSGC are: to build aerospace-related research infrastructure within the state; to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Originally published: https://www.smcvt.edu/about-smc/news/2020/may/faculty-collaborators-funded-for-stress-in-space-study/

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo

Dagan Loisel