Payton Dupuis in a lab at MIT. Steph Stevens photo courtesy Payton Dupuis.
BOZEMAN — A Montana State University senior has won a prestigious fellowship from
the National Science Foundation that will support her research aimed at developing
new biomedical treatments for neurological conditions like depression.
Payton Dupuis, a native of Polson, was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship earlier
this month. The sought-after fellowship provides funding for three years with a $34,000
annual living stipend plus $12,000 per year to cover tuition and fees. Dupuis intends
to use the funding to advance her research interests in the biochemistry of the brain
while pursuing a doctorate.
"I’m excited about going into the neuroscience field and hopefully continuing on to
get a Ph.D.,” said Dupuis, who’s majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in
computer science. "I really like that I’ll be able to focus on my interest in mental
health and applying what I know to hopefully help a lot of people."
In the meantime, Dupuis will continue her work in a research position at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology with Troy Littleton, professor of neuroscience in MIT's Department of Biology, Department of Brain and
Cognitive Sciences and The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. She worked with
Littleton last summer as a participant in MIT’s Summer Research Program for undergraduates,
where she focused on understanding proteins involved in the synapses where neurons
connect in the brains of fruit flies. The flies are often used as model organisms
in biomedical research because they share three-quarters of the genes that cause disease
“Dr. Littleton's research has really sparked my interest because of its focus on understanding
brain synapses,” Dupuis said. Being located in Boston, a hub of biomedical research
and development, is also exciting, she added.
Going forward, Dupuis’s research with Littleton will involve using gene-editing tools
such as CRISPR to change neuron proteins and study the resulting synapse activity
in order to better understand the proteins’ role in regulating neurotransmitting chemicals.
That could ultimately lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety and other brain
disorders, she said.
Dupuis, a first-generation descendant of a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai
Tribes, started doing research while in high school in Polson through a program at
Salish Kootenai College. Then, the summer after her freshman year at MSU, she participated
in MSU’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. In the lab of Michael Mock, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in MSU’s College of Letters and Science, she explored new chemical reactions for producing nitrogen-based fertilizers.
"I found that I really loved the lab environment, including the lab community and
the sense of collaboration," Dupuis said. The following summers, she did similar research
programs at the University of North Dakota and then Tufts University.
“Payton is a great example of how students can be grounded at their home university
but also explore different subjects and places through research,” said Abbie Richards, head of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. “It has been exciting to watch as she has sought out these experiences that have
led her to this fellowship and to graduate school.”
Dupuis has been heavily involved in the Empower Student Center, where she has volunteered as a student tutor and helped out in other ways, and she
has served as a student ambassador in the engineering college. She is also a McNair
Scholar. MSU’s McNair Scholars Program promotes undergraduate research experiences and provides a variety of support for
underrepresented students who have a goal of attending graduate school.
Dupuis said she was thankful for the encouragement she received, especially from Richards
as well as Shelly Hogan, director of MSU’s McNair Scholars Program. “They have been
very supportive along my whole journey,” she said.