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Psychologist will use Cattell Fund fellowship to develop zebrafish model of fetal alcohol spectrum

  • Pamela Hunt
    Pamela Hunt  one of three recipients of the 2011-2012 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowships.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Pamela Hunt, professor of psychology and associate director of the interdisciplinary neuroscience program, was one of three recipients of the 2011-2012 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowships. Since 1974, the fellowships have provided professors a supplemental sabbatical allowance, allowing them to extend their leave time and research efforts. Hunt is the first William & Mary professor to receive the fellowship.

Beginning in July 2011, Hunt will use her one-year sabbatical to develop a zebrafish model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in order to better understand how prenatal alcohol exposure affects humans.

“What I would like to do ultimately is learn how to use these fish as a model of what’s called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder,” she said. “The main problem would be fetal alcohol syndrome, but just any exposure to alcohol prenatally can result in problems with cognitive performance and attention and some other things.”

During the first semester of her sabbatical, Hunt will work in Robert Gerlai’s laboratory at the University of Toronto-Mississauga.

“He has a number of paradigms and techniques that he uses to look at fish behavior and some simple forms of learning, and so my intention would be to go up there and learn about his paradigms and then come back to my lab and try to develop those procedures to look at alcohol effects on learning,” Hunt said.

During the second half of the sabbatical, Hunt will begin a zebrafish colony in her own lab with the intent of transforming the lab to support zebrafish as a new research area. Hunt also plans to spend much of her sabbatical writing articles for publication and a grant proposal so that she may obtain the necessary equipment to transform her lab.

Hunt said that her zebrafish research will allow her to form new collaborations, including one with Chancellor Professor of Biology Margaret Saha, who also works with the species.i