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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Paul S. Holcomb, a Biomedical Sciences Graduate student studying Neuroscience, was recently awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institutes of Health. This highly selective and very prestigious fellowship will allow Paul to complete a research project entitled, “Structural Polarity Influences Terminal Placement and Competition in Formation of the Calyx of Held.”
The goal of Paul’s NIH predoctoral fellowship is to determine the role of the polarity of neurons in the formation and competition of terminals during the development of the central nervous system. For this project, Paul will be using the development of the auditory brainstem – specifically the calyx of Held, one of the largest terminals in the mammalian nervous system – as a model system for his research. Clinically, the development of this area has significant impact, both in deafness and due to a high prevalence of disorders of this neural circuit in autism spectrum disorders. 
Paul’s research interests focus on how the brain is structured, both at a cellular level and whole circuit level. His other research interests include development of the auditory system, synaptogenesis, glial biology, brain-machine interfacing, neural plasticity, and computational neuroscience. In the future, he would like to study how the connectivity of the brain structures – termed “connectomics” - influences device design for brain-machine interfaces. The field of connectomics, which is a new field in neuroscience, allows researchers to map connections in the brain in order to create visual diagrams of how these connections, or connectomes, are wired and organized. By comparing connectomes in both healthy and diseased brains, scientists hope to gain insight on the anatomical and functional connectivity within the brain that will eventually facilitate research of brain disorders. 
Paul earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2005. He worked in industry with Breault Research Organization in Tucson, AZ, for four years before moving to Morgantown with his wife, Micky. Paul is currently enrolled at WVU as a biomedical sciences graduate student focusing on neuroscience. He also has a certificate in teaching at the university level from WVU, focusing on teaching STEM disciplines. Paul was a distinguished speaker during the 2014 WVU Festival of Ideas, during which he presented, “The BRAIN Initiative: Computers, Connectomes, and the Emergence of Technobiology.” He was also the winner of the 2013 West Virginia Science Idol competition. 
Paul will complete his NRSA project while working in the WVU Center for Neuroscience, which is directed by his mentor, Dr. George Spirou, Professor of Otolaryngology and Physiology & Pharmacology. For more information about the Center for Neuroscience, visit http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/wvucn/.