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Grad student awarded grant to study adolescent binge drinking with biology professor

24 June 2022
Avery Sicher against brick wall

Avery Sicher, a graduate student in the neuroscience program at Penn State's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, has received a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support her continued research. Sicher is one of few Huck students to receive this recognition. 

Sicher’s research has identified binge drinking during adolescence as a potential risk factor for alcohol use disorder (AUD) in adulthood. Her work investigates the effects of adolescent binge drinking on prelimbic somatostatin circuitry. She described her research process as, “Trying to understand how drinking alcohol during adolescence affects the development of neuronal circuits. Changes in the development of these circuits may have lasting implications for different behaviors, but not a lot of research has looked at persistent brain changes after adolescent alcohol.” 

Nikki Crowley, assistant professor of biology and biomedical engineering is one of Sicher's advisers on this research. Crowley’s lab studies the cellular basis of alcohol addiction and its comorbidity with neuropsychiatric disorders between sexes and across the lifespan. 

“Avery has been an exemplar graduate student since joining us at Penn State in 2020, when both graduate education and research training was still difficult,” said Crowley. “However, she already knew she was passionate about understanding the effects of alcohol exposure on developing neurocircuitry, and quickly launched a successful line of work understanding how binge drinking alters the trajectory of cortical microcircuits.” 

Sicher is also co-mentored by Patrick Drew, associate director of the Neuroscience Institute and Huck distinguished associate professor of neural engineering and neurosurgery.

Sicher is looking forward to learning new techniques in neuroscience research, thanks to the support of her sponsors and the NIAAA. 

“The Huck Institutes has provided me so many opportunities to prepare me for this application, including participating in the Physiological Adaptations to Stress T32 program," she said. "I've also had the chance to form connections with faculty in other departments, and that has helped me develop and refine my research focus.”

More information on the Neuroscience program can be found at the Huck Institutes.