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Psychology Master’s Student Earns Fulbright, Publishes Depression and Anxiety Research

Shama Huq '21 MS

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Shama Huq ’21 MS, a recent graduate of the master’s program in Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was one of 11 Villanova University students and alumni to win a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program award for 2021-22. Huq will spend her Fulbright year conducting research in the lab of Rosemary Bagot, PhD, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, exploring the role of the brain’s vHIP-NAc pathway in mediating early life stress effects. In addition, Huq recently had her first lead-author paper accepted for publication in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected for a Fulbright award,” said Huq. “Having the opportunity to live abroad, deepen my cultural understanding of Canada, and serve as an ambassador of the U.S. while collaborating on research with international colleagues feels like the perfect next chapter. Montreal is a beautiful, diverse city that is rich in culture and is also a hub for neuroscience. I firmly believe that working together across borders is the best way to tackle depression, a devastating disorder with global impact.”

During her studies at Villanova, Huq worked in the lab of Benjamin Sachs, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Her master’s thesis explores the effects of therapeutic ketamine in a stress paradigm on depression, anxiety and suicide endophenotypes.

“I am incredibly excited that Shama will be working with Dr. Bagot during her Fulbright,” said Dr. Sachs. “Dr. Bagot has made some really seminal contributions to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying stress susceptibility and antidepressant responses, including for ketamine, and I’m both happy and proud that Shama will have the opportunity to perform mentored research with this emerging leader in behavioral neuroscience. Shama is an intensely dedicated student who is passionate about mental health and working to demystify psychiatric disorders by revealing their underlying neurological bases. She has been a wonderful addition to the lab and has made important contributions to several projects.”

In her paper published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, “The Effects of Brain Serotonin Deficiency on Responses to High Fat Diet in Female Mice,” Huq worked with Dr. Sachs and fellow graduate students Allison Warner and Kerry Buckhaults to compare the behavioral effects of chronic exposure to high fat diet in female mice who had normal levels of brain serotonin and mice with reduced levels of brain serotonin. Unlike the group’s prior work in males, Huq showed that serotonin deficiency did not seem to impact the effects of diet on anxiety- or depression-like behaviors in the female mice.

Said Dr. Sachs, “At this point, we don’t really know why we are seeing these sex differences in the ways in which serotonin deficiency impacts depression- and/or anxiety-like behavior, but we are interested in exploring this further, as it could be relevant to the sex differences that are observed in the incidence of depression and anxiety, as women are much more likely to suffer from these conditions than men.”

Huq credits the strong mentorship in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences for her growth as a researcher and Villanova’s Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF) for helping her earn her Fulbright.

“The skills I gained during my time at Villanova created a strong foundation for me to progress to this next step,” Huq said. “In particular, Dr. Sachs' mentorship and guidance helped me to carve out my path, and I am forever grateful! Also, Mike [Westrate, PhD] and Kelsey [Fenner] in CRF are amazing and worked closely with me on my Fulbright application. They were an incredible resource.”

Villanova has been listed among the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Students for more than a decade, and the University has had at least one student selected for the coveted award each year since 1994. The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, offering students grants to conduct research, study and teach abroad. The Fulbright competition at Villanova is open to all current undergraduate, graduate, professional students and alumni, and is administered by CRF.

At Villanova, Huq served as the Vice-president of Philanthropy for the College’s Graduate Student Council and Secretary of Psi Chi Honor Society. She was a recipient of the Office of Graduate Studies’ Summer Research Fellowship and presented her work at the College’s 2020 Virtual Graduate Research Symposium.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.