CAS Professor and Student Present at Sex Differences Conference in Norway

CAS Professor and Student Present at Sex Differences Conference in Norway

Madeline '25 at the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences Conference in Norway in May.

College of Arts and Sciences' Shannon Harding, PhD, and Madeline Kitlas ’24 traveled to the international conference to present their research.

In May, professor of psychology and brain sciences Shannon Harding, PhD, and behavioral neuroscience student Madeline Kitlas ’24 presented their faculty-mentored research project at the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences Conference in Bergen, Norway.

Dr. Harding, an expert in behavioral neuroscience, conducted research with Kitlas that investigated sex differences, social isolation and behavior, using a rodent model. They examined the impact of social isolation during adolescence on anxiety-like behaviors and spatial memory, as well as the potential benefits of treating these deficits with taurine, a dietary supplement and semi-essential amino acid that affects the neurotransmitter GABA. Their study was based on more than a year of data collection.

“We showed that isolation enhanced anxiety (in both sexes) and impaired spatial memory (in males), and that taurine treatment reduced anxiety in isolated males and females and improved spatial memory in isolated males. These findings have implications, given the social isolation experienced during the pandemic, which is also associated with an increased rate of adolescents reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Harding.

In addition to presenting their own research, the Fairfield representatives attended several keynote sessions, including one by Dr. John Cryan from University College Cork, on the role of the gut microbiome in brain and behavior throughout the lifetime, and another by Dr. Tracey Bale from the University of Colorado, on stress, genes, development, and the importance of sex. They also attended a panel discussion on the latest research on sex, stress, and neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions, with studies conducted in both animal models and humans.

“The best parts of the conference were getting to see how our preclinical research can be translated into clinical research, and meeting like-minded people. This conference was even more inspiring for me because I am starting medical school in August, so it combined my neuroscience interests with my medical interests,” said Kitlas.

At the poster presentation session, they met student peers and researchers whose topics focused on medicine and benchtop science, particularly in critical areas for women's health such as menopause, cardiovascular issues, and postpartum depression.

For Kitlas, it was a life-changing experience. “Traveling to Norway to present our research was definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had," she said. "It was amazing to see people present research from all different disciplines, yet be brought together by a mutual interest in sex differences.”

Funding for the trip was provided by the Magis Scholars program and the College of Arts and Sciences. The research was funded by a faculty research grant and the Science Institute.

Learn more about the College of Arts and Sciences at fairfield.edu/cas.

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