Faculty Mentor Spotlight – Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, D.D.S, Ph.D.

-Written by Daijha Copeland

-Edited by Monica Richard

Meet Dr. Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, a native of Chicago, an associate professor, dentist, researcher, and mentor. Frazier-Bowers came to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1993.

As a child, Frazier-Bowers visits to her dentist inspired her to pursue dentistry.

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Frazier-Bowers said, “For better or worse, I visited my dentist often so the comfort and ease I felt during my visits soon turned into intrigue. I later realized that unlike some health professional fields, the dentist seemed to be very solution-oriented and definitive in dealing with patients’ dental needs.”

In high school, Frazier-Bowers enrolled in the Chicago Health and Medical Careers Pre College Program. During the program, the ins and outs of the health profession and biomedical research were introduced to Frazier-Bowers, sparking an interest in research that never left her. Frazier-Bowers received her undergraduate degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but worked for a year in research and development before continuing her journey in to the dental profession. While attending dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Frazier-Bowers was actively involved in the research projects of her professors. Serendipitously, she opened a flier in the mail about a fellowship program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (formerly National Institute of Dental Research) summer fellowship, applied and was accepted.

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

The experience was transformative. During the fellowship, Frazier-Bowers got the opportunity to listen to guest speakers who gave glimpses into their scientific work and medical practices. Frazier-Bowers said, “I was completely captivated by this environment of scientists.” It was during these talks that Frazier-Bowers realized that most of the problems and anomalies that patients face arise from facial proportions, which are largely inherited. It was obvious that these anomalies had a genetic route. Dr. Frazier-Bowers believed that by knowing what these genetic processes were a more holistic perspective could be given to patients’ conditions and their care could be improved.

Frazier-Bowers sought out a National Institute of Health training grant that would allow her to obtain a specialty in her field and pursue a PhD. Finding such a program at UNC-Chapel Hill, Frazier-Bowers packed her bags and moved to North Carolina. Obtaining a certificate in orthodontics and her PhD in genetics and molecular biology, focused and motivated, it was not long before Frazier-Bowers became an associate professor at the UNC School of Dentistry, where she now conducts her own research.

The Frazier-Bowers story does not end here. It is at UNC that Frazier-Bowers experienced a great need to “give back” in respect to all of the great mentors she had along the way. Frazier-Bowers believes that, “A mentor can help students combat the negatives in life, whether inside or outside of the lab or classroom, and draw inspiration from their experiences which can help them improve and succeed.”

When asked about the most challenging moments of mentoring students, Frazier-Bowers said, “There seems to always be a scheduling conflict. It is hard to ensure one-on-one time…That one-on-one time is crucial to the mentoring process.” But beyond the challenges, it is the energy and excitement about the science that young mentees bring into the lab that Frazier-Bowers enjoys most. Frazier-Bowers said, “Having that presence produces a spirited atmosphere that nurtures the ultimate goal – creating new knowledge – a product, I enjoy seeing come to life.”

 

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Undergrads as an Asset in Neurobiology

written by Chris Smith

BS Neuroscience  Furman University From Greenwood, SC

Chris Smith
BS Neuroscience Furman University
From Greenwood, SC

I am a 6th year Neurobiology PhD student in the lab of Charlotte Boettiger in the Department of Psychology at UNC. During my time as a graduate student at UNC – CH, I have had the pleasure of working with 8 UNC undergraduate students whose interests ranged from psychology to biology. My role was to show them the various aspects (and challenges) of human subject research and how it can be used to understand the cognitive processes related to addictive behaviors we study in the lab. Specifically, I focus on understanding the neurobiology of decision making processes which may be altered in populations at risk for developing addictive disorders or populations already diagnosed with addictive disorders.

This academic year I have three undergraduates – Melisa Menceloglu, Michael Parrish, and Scott Oppler – working with me. Their projects demonstrate the range of approaches we use to understand human behavior. Melisa and Michael are assisting me on a neuroimaging project to understand neural circuit differences across individuals which may modulate the behavior we study. Scott, on the other hand, has been helping me investigate how genetic polymorphisms affecting dopamine levels in humans impact their behavior.

Michael Parrish  BS Psychology/ BS Biology

Michael Parrish
BS Psychology/ BS Biology

Scott Oppler  BS Psychology & Biology Melissa Menceloglu BA Psychology

Scott Oppler
BS Psychology & Biology
Melisa Menceloglu
BA Psychology

How UNC Undergraduate Students Are An Asset to My Work:

While working with UNC-CH undergraduate students, I have learned that they are all extremely bright, self-motivated, and eager to learn new things. They have assisted me greatly in the work I have been doing over the years. For example we have been looking at the role of age and genetic polymorphisms on human behavior. Specifically, a person’s age (emerging adult versus adult) appears to determine which particular genetic variations may be associated with a tendency to value the future less: a process we believe is implicated in promoting and sustaining alcohol use disorders. A total of 4 UNC-CH undergrads were      acknowledged in the paper (in Psychopharmacology) focused on this project.

The Importance of Undergraduate Research Experiences:

 Getting experience with scientific research is the best way to know whether or not pursuing a career in science is right for you. I was able to take advantage of undergraduate research at Furman University while I pursued my Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience. My early work, looking at the impact of alcohol and the neuropeptide beta-endorphin on stress and anxiety behavior in mice, was critical in inspiring me to apply to PhD programs focused on the neurobiology of drug abuse and behaviors associated with problem drug use. Conducting original science is a difficult enterprise and nothing prepares someone more for understanding the process better than doing it firsthand, which is the value of pursuing research opportunities early.

I encourage anyone remotely interested in the scientific process to think about volunteering in one of the hundreds of labs at UNC-CH. This is a great place to explore a vast array of research topics and areas. In labs affiliated with the Neurobiology Curriculum, for instance, one can experience the various approaches researchers take to understanding the brain and behavior from animal models to humans, from intracellular signaling in individual neurons to widespread neural activity as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Links to publications of my work (containing acknowledgements to many UNC undergraduate students that have helped out over the years):

Smith CT, Boettiger CA (2012) Age modulates the effect of COMT genotype on delay discounting behavior. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 222: 609-617.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22349272

Smith CT, Swift-Scanlan T, Boettiger CA (2013). Genetic polymorphisms regulating dopamine signaling in the frontal cortex interact to affect target detection under high working memory load. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, in press.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24144248

Other papers of Interest from our lab:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16385186

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18160646

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