For his senior capstone project, Josh Samuels ’19, a double major in psychology and biology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience, investigates physical exercise as an organic relief for depression.
Quietly confident, Josh Samuels ’19 sits down, leans forward, and explains how he came to make the connections between psychology and the biology of brain chemistry. It happened when two professors cast their spell over him, demonstrating the wonders of science and the world of possibilities it holds. In much the same way, his interest in writing poetry and non-fiction grew to encompass scientific writing—a skill he now considers one of his greatest assets.
“I had two great professors in psych my freshman year—Mike Kerchner and Chris Beasley,” Samuels says, “and they just sucked me in! I came to Washington College focused on psychology and creative writing. I had never dreamed of falling into biology, but my studies in psychology led me to understand that we use a lot of biology to explain psychology.”
Kerchner and Beasley drew him into their work and encouraged him to expand the scope of his studies, which will culminate this spring with his senior capstone project.
“I’m looking at exercise as a treatment for depression, both short-term and long-term,” says Samuels, a varsity swimmer and a goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team with 10 career shut-outs to his credit.
His hypothesis is that an exercise routine could supplant the need for daily medications. His research is looking at the benefits of a daily routine of exercise over the long term and how it stacks up with pharmaceuticals. Using a rat study, he hopes to demonstrate that exercise re-balances the chemistry of the brain.
“I’m looking at the brain and some of the structural layers of the brain and the neurons,” he says. “Does exercise change the brain in a positive way, compared to a pharmaceutical? We know that when patients stop taking a drug, the depression will come right back.”
He plans to give his rats exercise protocols and then stop them to determine if depression rebounds; this should help him determine if there is a long-term effect associated with exercise that engendered a lasting change in behavior and brain chemistry. He believes exercise programs to treat depression could be especially effective for elderly patients.
Because of his interests in research and writing, Samuels will pursue graduate studies and explore opportunities to work for a large health organization.
“I plan to pursue a Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. in neuroscience,” he says. “Before starting graduate school, I want to one or two years and conduct medical research to further challenge myself as a researcher and a scientist. I am looking to do post-baccalaureate research at the National Institutes of Health or a research hospital.”