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Student Spotlight November 2013

Nick Kuypers


Nick Kuypers & Wife



Directly out of high school, Mr. Kuypers, received a full scholarship from the University of New Orleans to pursue Jazz Studies as an upright/electric bassist.  After earning his degree, Nick moved back home to Chicago and began performing professionally as a free-lance musician. As time passed, so did his passion for life as a performing artist.  He went back to school to explore other career options at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). As a psychology and physiology major, he had the opportunity to work in two neuroscience labs whose focus was on the recovery of function following traumatic brain injury in experimental models. This reoriented his career focus as he had finally found something he was deeply passionate about:  science. To that end, Nick was soon applying to neuroscience PhD programs across the country with the intent of researching the effects of disease and trauma to the central nervous system (CNS) with a particular interest in the development of treatment strategies for those disorders.        





What brought you to the University of Louisville?

I found several aspects of UofL appealing: It was relatively close to my family in Chicago and the UofL School of Medicine has a strong dedication to research. However, the most influential factor was definitely my desire to work with Dr. Scott Whittemore. Although I was aware of Dr. Whittemore’s lab and his significant scientific contributions through the literature and discussions with my colleagues at SIUC, Scott and I had officially met coincidentally while presenting adjacent posters at the National Neurotrauma Symposium in 2008. After a brief discussion, Scott invited me to rotate in his lab.   I knew then that UofL was the best destination for me.

Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) and oligodendrocyte biology: At the time, miRNAs were still a relatively new area of study with little known about their role in oligodendrocytes (a supportive cell within the CNS whose loss results in the dysfunction observed in a variety of demyelinating and traumatic disorders). However, it was becoming increasingly clear that miRNAs play a role in multiple disease pathologies in a cell specific manner. Therefore, we decided to ask whether miRNAs are involved in oligodendrocyte loss and repair and if so, could we develop a therapeutic approach to manipulate dysfunctional miRNAs in an effort to reverse the disease pathology.

How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to your grandmother?

We study very small molecules in cells which misbehave during certain diseases. Our goal is to find out which molecules are bad and which are good so we can promote better behavior of the bad molecules in an effort to make patients with these diseases better. Hi Oma! (Grandma in Dutch). 

Awards, honors, publications

Awards / honors:

 * 2012    Michael Tanner award for excellence in graduate research, Institute for Cellular      Therapeutics, Research!Louisville   

* 2012    Graduate poster competition (2nd place), Neuroscience Day, University of Louisville 

* 2008    Poster competition (1st place), Undergraduate Research Forum, Southern Illinois University

* 2008    Gordon F. Pitz award (outstanding honors thesis in psychology), Southern Illinois University



 * Kuypers NJ, James KT, Enzmann GU, Magnuson DS, Whittemore SR (2013). Functional consequences of ethidium bromide demyelination of the mouse ventral spinal cord. Exp Neurol. 247:615-622

* Zhu Q, Whittemore SR, Devries WH, Zhao X, Kuypers NJ, Qiu M (2011). Dorsally-derived oligodendrocytes in the spinal cord contribute to axonal myelination during development and remyelination following focal demyelination. Glia. 59:1612-21

* Kuypers NJ, Hoane MR (2010). Pyridoxine administration improves behavioral and anatomical outcome after unilateral contusion injury in the rat. J Neurotrauma. 27:1275-82

* Mishra PK, Kuypers NJ, Singh SR, Diaz N, Chavali V, Tyagi SC (2013) Cardiac stem cell niche, MMP9, and culture and differentiation of embryonic stem cells. In Kursad Turksen (Ed): Stem Cells and Niche, Methods and Protocols, Springer Publication, In Press.

How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?

I can only hope that a PhD in neurobiology will put me in a better position to contribute to scientific efforts aimed at fighting disease and improving patient quality of life. I am extremely lucky to be in the position I am. Therefore, I owe it to the many people less fortunate than I to continue working hard towards achieving those goals.   

Long term goals/ aspirations:

My long term goals are: 1. Be a great husband and one day a great father. 2. Eventually run my own basic neuroscience lab with the goal of developing molecular based treatment options for CNS disease and trauma.

What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?

I will focus on “otherwise”:

What I am most proud of overall is being the best husband and best friend I can be to my beautiful and lovely wife, Mary.   I am also extremely proud to have been a 4-year member of the UofL Ice Hockey Team, a sport I’ve played competitively since age 5. I served as team captain for 1 season, as team president for 3 seasons and as a brother to my teammates for 4 seasons.

What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

The relationships I’ve developed with my mentor Scott, and all of the incredibly intelligent, talented and dedicated friends/colleagues I am privileged to surround myself with every day. I am humbled to have the opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people on the planet and hopefully I can one day make them proud. 

What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?

Maintaining high functionality and productivity on little-to-no sleep.


Family life:

As mentioned above, I have been married for over 2 years to my amazing wife, Mary. Currently, we have 2 border collies (Bootsy and Penny) and a cat (Charlie) but we look forward to one day throwing a kiddo or two into the mix (easy mom, don’t get any crazy ideas!). We also each come from large close-knit family backgrounds and keeping up with all of our new cousins, nieces and nephews at holiday/family events has certainly been a priority to us both.


Fun Facts

A talent you have always wanted:  I have always wanted to learn how to golf. I’m even terrible at putt-putt… seriously, it’s embarrassing. I’m the classic worm burner.
Favorite book: A brave new world – Aldous Huxley
Favorite quote:  “...I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”
- Albert Einstein, letter to Guy H. Raner Jr., Sept. 28, 1949, quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic, Vol. 5, No. 2 

Role Model: My dad, John Kuypers

Favorite Vacation Destination: Somewhere deep in the backcountry far from civilization where I can enjoy the seclusion of the wilderness and the company of the wildlife after a long and hard day’s hike.

If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now?  Most likely coaching ice hockey and working construction/pouring concrete in the family business back home in Chicago.

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