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UTEP Society for Neuroscience hosts brain awareness week

Graphic by Hugo Hinojosa

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Sun City chapter is raising brain awareness by hosting a week long virtual event from March 22-28 focused on the importance of brain research, specifically the science of drug use.  

Brain awareness week is a global campaign celebrated in  March. This year, UTEP student and president of SfN Sun City Chapter, Briana Pinales, is helping spark the El Paso community’s interest in disorders of the brain regarding substance use, by inviting professionals to present research highlighting the impact of addiction and its detrimental effects.   

One of the most notable events consisted of a presentation on March 23 by Ian A. Mendez, Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Mendez’s presentation ‘Establishing a Rodent Model of E-cigarette Use: Current Progress and Early Findings’ focused on his research on how nicotine exposure can produce an increase in brain reward stimulation during withdrawal and the effects it has on the brain.  

During the presentation, Mendez showed attendees successful experiments in collaboration with other researchers and former graduate and undergraduate students, funded by The National Institute of Drug Abuse, The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and The National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Mendez went on to explain how nicotine and addiction affect decision making by analyzing if rodents would make the best decision while being exposed to nicotine vapor. The experiment tested impulsive choice and risky choice in rodents.

Mendez showed how repeated nicotine exposure produces a positive reinforcement that supports reward seeking and self-administration.  

“Rats exposed to vapor showed evidence of reward seeking behavior, dependence, and cognitive impairment, Mendez said.  “Dramatic increases in e-cigarette use, together with almost no understanding of their effects, highlight the need for research.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, 3.6 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 4.7% of middle school students and 19.6% of high school students.  

E-cigarettes are not currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a quit smoking aid. In a January recommendation statement, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that evidence is insufficient to recommend e-cigarettes for smoking cessation in adults. 

Mendez went on to give research tips on professionalism, being detailed oriented, organized and building collaborative work with others. 

He emphasized the key to success is developing grit and persistence.  

“Its only when we fail that we have an opportunity to learn and grow,” Mendez said. Learn from those experiences stay positive and stay persistent. 

More discussions like the one hosted by Mendez are set to continue throughout the week, including talks focused on morphine, LSD, and Psilocybin. 

“Our mission is to allow science to be accessible to the entire community of El Paso and help students gain professional skills in research-based careers,” Pinales said. “We hope to adhere to the University’s own mission by allowing education to be accessible to everyone.” 

Pinales said the activities are not limited to those who study neuroscience, as the week is full of interactive opportunities for students. This includes game nights, TikTok challenges and a virtual art show showcasing individuals’ artistic talents regarding their view on drugs. 

Prizes and services are also something attendees can look forward to throughout the week’s progression as they simultaneously learn about a topic impacting El Paso and communities across the globe. 

For a full list of events being hosted virtually this week visit: 

To see past events from this week, visit Sun City Neuroscience’s YouTube channel: 

Noelia Gonzalez may be reached at p[email protected]; @OfficialNoeliaG on Twitter. 

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About the Contributor
Noelia Gonzalez
Noelia Gonzalez is a Senior, Double Majoring in Multimedia Journalism and Digital Media Production at the University of Texas at El Paso. She works as the Multimedia Reporter for the University's newspaper, The Prospector. She has interned at KTSM Channel 9 and KVIA ABC-7, pitching stories and helping reporters write and edit their stories for air. She enjoys editing and producing videos and hopes to incorporate her love of film, music, and news-reporting in her future endeavors.
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UTEP Society for Neuroscience hosts brain awareness week