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Wayne Valley Alum Making A Difference In Autism Research

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Tara Halpern, a Wayne Valley High School graduate and William Paterson University senior, is joining the battle in helping to discover the source and find a cure for autism.

Halpern, a research assistant at WPU, began her autism research in January of 2009 where she along with several of her professors began testing mice that had been used as a model for autism. During her research, she studied the affects of cannabinoid (marijuana like substances) on the activity levels of autistic mice.

The result was that cannabinoids reduced the levels of active locomotion and repetitive behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorders.

This particular research project was funded and supported by the National Institute of Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, as well as William Paterson's Department of Sciences. Overseeing the project on-site were professors Dr. Emmanuel Onaivi, full-time member of the science department, and Dr. Robert Benno, full-time professor and director of the research lab.

"We recognize that the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders are difficult to model in rodents because of the absence of verbal communication and the variability of symptoms," said Halpern. "But nevertheless a number of relevant behavioral and social changes have been found in our mouse model."

Both professors have been teaching at WPU for several years and they share the same passion as Halpern in helping find the root-cause of autism.

As a Biology major with a concentration in physiology and behavior, Halpern plans on attending medical school to pursue her passion as a physician's assistant after graduation in May.

Her research is considered controversial as well as ground-breaking and was recently published in the current Neuropharmacology Journal, which highlights the advancement of the biomedical, medical, and pharmaceutical fields. It's thought to be highly unusual for an undergraduate student to conduct such in-depth research on autism and to her credit Halpern is one of the youngest co-authors to appear in such a publication.

"Autism affects nearly 1.5 million people in our country and although this research provides a small glimpse into a possible biological basis for this disease, it can open the minds of other researchers with greater resources," Halpern said. "I am happy to have been able to contribute something to the scientific community and to have helped in the fight for autism."

Source: Wayne Valley alum making a difference in autism research - NorthJersey.com
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