Biology major Kalen Abbott ('05) was the right person in the right place in the summer of 2005 when he helped conduct a major research study investigating genetic links to alcoholism at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC), in Beaverton, Ore. Abbott, who is from Oregon City, Ore, was serving as an intern at ONPRC through the Murdock Scholarship Program, which selects top undergraduates to work in labs affiliated with Oregon Health Sciences University.
"Never in my life did I think I would have had an opportunity to do this," Abbott said. "I've always been a good student, but never a part of something this big."
The test was based on previous studies that suggest monkeys with an underlying propensity to consume alcohol will demonstrate certain characteristics, such as higher tolerance levels for alcohol and a greater tendency to consume sweet drinks. Abbott led a team of interns that administered moderate doses of alcohol to year-old Rhesus Macaque monkeys. The team then videotaped each monkey moving about a designated play area to see how its motor skills had been affected. (None of the monkeys was injured or harmed.)
The team also tested the monkeys' preference for sweet drink, and looked for changes in body language in circumstances whe monkeys normally exhibit defensive behavior. Those monkeys that seemed to have a higher tolerance for alcohol may provide clues into the genetics of alcoholism.
"We're honing in on the genes that are associated with alcoholism," Abbott said.
Kalen says his science courses at Warner Pacific prepared him well for his work at the primate center. He has applied to graduate schools and is considering an internship offer in Washington, D.C. at the National Institute of Health.
"In reality, all of the anatomy and physiology courses, the physics, the chemistry, everything applied directly to what we were doing," Kalen said. "If I got into graduate school and I took on a PhD project, this would be almost the exact same thing."