Biological Information Processing program puts research in the hands of students

Rajat Thapa (BSc ’12) may have started his undergraduate studies in the United States, but he knows exactly what drew him to the University of Lethbridge to complete his Bachelor of Science in neuroscience: “The world-renowned neuroscience faculty at the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN),” says the native of Nepal.

Master's student Rajat Thapa has taken advantage of his opportunity to work alongside some of the world's leading neuroscience researchers.

The CCBN – the only research facility of its kind in Canada – is home to some of the founders of the behavioural neuroscience field. One of those highly respected researchers is Dr. Robert Sutherland, Chair of the Department of Neuroscience, who has a long list of scientific achievements to his credit. Among them, his team was the first in the world to reverse a memory deficit in a dementia model by regenerating cells in the cerebral cortex.

In addition to conducting his own research, Sutherland plays a key role in supporting and inspiring the next generation of scientists. As director of the University’s Biological Information Processing (BIP): From Genome to Systems Level program, Sutherland oversees a premier training initiative in neuroscience. Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through their Collaborative Research and Training Experience program, BIP provides undergraduate, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows – as well as southern Alberta high school students – with hands-on experience that is easily translatable to industry – a feature that stands BIP apart from more traditional academic paths.

Equally important, says Sutherland, is the calibre of researchers who students work alongside.

“In this program, students learn from an unparalleled group of mentors who are world leaders in their fields,” he says.

Thapa, now a master’s student in neuroscience, is a BIP program participant. Working under the supervision of neuroscientist Dr. Aaron Gruber, an expert in the neural basis of decision-making, Thapa is studying the role that different sub-regions of the brain play when animals make decisions and exhibit particular behaviour. Gaining a better understanding of this process may one day help researchers find novel and effective solutions to addiction, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.

“The U of L’s neuroscience program allowed me to jump right into research,” says Thapa, who intends to pursue a PhD down the road. “It’s helping me gather tools in terms of methods, data-analysis techniques and creative and critical thinking necessary to pursue the questions I hope to answer someday.”