Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Pharmacy Ph.D. Student Wins $10K ACT Fellowship

Dennis Carty with fishThe American College of Toxicology gives only five North American Graduate Fellowships a year, and this year, one of those was awarded to University of Mississippi Ph.D. student Dennis Carty. The award carries a $10,000 stipend, divided over two years, to help fund the fellow’s degree and their trip to the yearly ACT meeting, a valuable opportunity to share research and network with colleagues. And while Carty said he likes to think he was selected because he’s awesome, he amended, “it’s probably something more trivial like our research or my writing style.”

The aforementioned research pertains to the safety of marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy. Carty described it, saying, “As most of us know, recreational and medicinal marijuana use is increasing exponentially in the United States. Also, due to the Schedule I status of marijuana, little research has been conducted to measure the adverse effects of marijuana use. Therefore, to fill this void in our scientific community, our lab studies the adverse developmental and multi-generational effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the most abundant compounds in marijuana. We also study the possible anticonvulsant potential of THC and CBD. One fun aspect of our research is working with zebrafish. Zebrafish are genetically similar to humans, therefore they can give us a glimpse into the positive and/or negative effects of marijuana use in humans.”

On the relevance of his research as a contributing factor to his new fellowship, he added, “I suppose what set me apart was the fact that our lab is studying something that is highly relevant in the United States. A large number of children are taking CBD for treatment-resistant epilepsy, however, toxicologists and medical experts alike still have little information regarding CBD’s safety profile.“

Interestingly, for such a successful aspiring toxicologist, science wasn’t always Carty’s main focus. Rather, he taught and performed music, conducting private lessons into his twenties, at which point, he felt he needed a break from the routine. He went back to school to study biology at the University of North Texas (UNT), where his organic chemistry professor, Dr. Robby Petros, invited Carty to work in his lab. Dr. Petros’s research was focused on cancer treatment, and Carty got first-hand experience using nanoparticles to kill cancer cells.

Dennis Carty with sample tubesHe said, “I found a new love working in the lab. It felt like therapy to me. A happy place where I could escape and work through issues in my brain via tremendous focus on scientific exploration. I still view working in the lab as very relaxing and peaceful. I suppose, it was at that point when I began thinking about graduate school and research. More specifically, at that time, I was very interested in cancer research primarily because I lost my mom to melanoma in 2003 and when you can study something with personal experience it seems to add more purpose to your life.”

Carty was drawn to the University of Mississippi by his advisor at UNT, Dr. Duane Huggett, with whom he was already pursuing his Ph.D. Dr. Huggett informed Carty that he was leaving academia, but softened the blow by adding that he had contacted his old advisor, UM professor Dr. Kristie Willett, and asked if Carty could finish in her lab.

“I had met Dr. Willett once before and was very intrigued with her research,” said Carty. “Dr. Willett’s research was very interesting to me because she worked with zebrafish, the pinnacle model organism to all aquatic organism research. Also, Dr. Willett’s lab focused a lot of molecular techniques which is something I have a lot of interest. Luckily, Dr. Willett was willing to accept me in her lab! I finished up a M.S. in Biology at UNT and quickly moved to Oxford! Hotty Toddy!”

Despite the impromptu nature of his move to Oxford, Carty has since found a home at the university. According to him, “The Department of BioMolecular Sciences is very supportive. In fact, a couple months after I arrived in Oxford, I won a $10,000 fellowship through our department for an original research project entitled ‘Effects of Cannabidiol and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol on Developing Zebrafish’. I feel like our department supplies the graduate students with ample opportunity just as long as you are willing to put in the effort.”

Research and Development chemist Cammi Thornton, who works closely with Carty’s research, support his success. She said, “Dennis is a dedicated graduate student and is constantly seeking ways to learn new lab techniques and gain funding. We are excited about the research Dennis has initiated in our lab”.


Author: Katelyn Miller