© Zachary Allen, Bridgewater State University
Cassandra Hartsgrove, ’22, is on a quest to unravel the mysteries of the brain and share her discoveries with the world.
As a Bridgewater State University undergraduate researcher, Cassandra is studying brain tissue from male and female rats to learn how schizophrenia manifests itself in humans.
“There’s some research that shows females may be underdiagnosed with schizophrenia,” said Cassandra, a psychology major from East Bridgewater. “If we learn more about sex differences and how disorders develop, we can have better treatments and better diagnostic tools."
Cassandra is sharing this work at competitive national and regional conferences run by the Sigma Xi scientific research honor society, the Council on Undergraduate Research, and the Northeast Regional Honors Council.
Her eagerness to engage with the scientific community on and off campus is admirable, said her mentor, Dr. Stephanie Penley.
"She’s incredibly independent and incredibly driven,” said Penley, an assistant professor of psychology. “She has a strong idea of what she wants to do and the skills to get there. It’s something you don’t often see at an undergraduate level."
Cassandra credits working in Penley’s research lab with solidifying her goals to earn a PhD in developmental or cognitive psychology and become a college professor.
"Before I joined this research lab, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was nervous about graduating,” she said. “Now I’m so excited to graduate because I know what I’m going to do."
Penley also got her start researching rats as an undergraduate. Their brains are structurally similar to human brains, allowing researchers to gain valuable insights into how the human brain develops.
“Animal models are a fantastic resource we can study in ways that are impossible to do with humans,” she said.
Cassandra is using archival tissue samples collected from rats that were part of non-BSU research. Some of the rodents’ brains developed similar to how schizophrenia appears in humans.
She praises Penley and fellow student researchers Savannah Velez and Emily Lincoln for their support.
“This has been the most welcoming, coolest experience in my entire college career,” she said.
Written by: Brian Benson, Bridgewater State University
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