Baldwin Wallace Neuroscience Students

Both head and heart are at the center of newly published Baldwin Wallace University research.

Student Neuroscience Research Pays Tribute to Professor Who Died Too Young

February 1, 2015

Both head and heart are at the center of newly published Baldwin Wallace University research.

The scientific paper itself, which appears in the latest issue of Neuroscience, focuses on the head — specifically the effects of an anesthesia chemical on the developing brain.

But the heart also was at the center of the project— not the organ that pumps blood— but the intangible resolve that moved a close-knit group of BW students, staff and faculty to see a professor's final research through to publication two years after his untimely death.

Tragedy Inspires Determination

The research was a continuation of the work of Dr. Christopher P. Turner, who died suddenly just six months after arriving at BW in the summer of 2012 to take over BW’s celebrated neuroscience program, recognized as the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) international “Neuroscience Program of the Year.

The 53-year-old Turner, who nurtured a passion for undergraduate research, quickly put his own imprint on lab protocols and training, stressing both individual initiative and mentored collaboration. Turner also was excited for BW students to build on research he published while at Wake Forest University School of Medicine which explored the disputed affects of ketamine in pediatric anesthesia.

Turner died before he and students could plan the next steps in his research, but the project did not die with him. Shinchung Kang, lab director, and Dr. Jacqueline Morris, neuroscience program director,  stepped in to provide scientific leadership, working with students to design experiments, guide research and mentor the publication process.

Closure and Empowerment

Senior neuroscience major Benjamin Brown ’15, who is the lead author on the final paper that appears as the cover story inNeuroscience, was co-author on research that appeared in the prestigious journal Nature in December. But Brown says this paper has special significance.

“It was difficult when he died,” Brown explains. “For everybody involved, this project meant closure. But we also were empowered. We had an idea where Dr. Turner wanted to go with the study, but it was up to us to design the experiments. It felt really good to build something from the ground up that would complete the next step in his vision.”

Turner is a named author on the paper, which demonstrates a protective benefit of low-dose ketamine, and there is a tribute to the professor in the acknowledgements: “This work is dedicated to Dr. Christopher Turner (1960–2013), who in his short time at Baldwin Wallace worked earnestly and with great patience for his students.”

The plan is to send a copy of the paper to Turner’s family in Liverpool, England where he grew up.

At the Intersection of Head and Heart

Co-author Kara Gawelek ’14, now a first year medical student at Case Western Reserve University, said everyone in the research group experienced, “tremendous growth as researchers and as people through our experience on the Turner project.”

And so, in the end, the project not only contributed to science, but produced growth in intellect and determination.

Head and heart.