Postdoctoral degree, The University of Chicago, Department of Human Genetics
Ph.D., Duke University, Department of Biology & University Program in Genetics
B.A., Colby College, magna cum laude
Areas of Expertise:
Courses I Teach:
Introduction to Health Science
Fundamentals of Genetics
Immunology and Parasitology in Genetics
Dagan Loisel of the Saint Michael’s biology faculty and Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of psychology and neurosciencewere guests in July on host Ric Cengeri’s regular weekday Vermont Viewpoint show on radio station WDEV in Waterbury. The collaborating faculty pair talked about their grant-funded research with NASA into using virtual reality as a way possibly to reduce stress for astronauts on missions. They delved into how the human body adapts to space flight, astronaut health, how their project fits in with the Artemis/Deep Space missions. Melissa shared expertise on physiological responses to stress/stress reduction part of the research, while Dagan brought his expertise regarding the immune system and viral shedding. In October Melissa gave a talk entitled, “Stress and health: From Earth, to the Moon, and on to Mars” to the Current Topics in Science course at Northern Vermont University – Johnson campus. The presentation was recorded by Green Mountain Access (public access television) to be broadcast on their local county TV station and uploaded to a statewide media exchange for other public access stations to air, and the talk was archived to YouTube.
(posted February 2022)
Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of the psychology/neuroscience faculty and Dagan Loisel of the biology faculty – believe astronauts might combat stress and reduce health risks in space using virtual reality meditation, and they spent the past year testing their theories on students and emergency responders at Saint Michael’s, funded by $50,000 in NASA grants and $8,000 of internal funding through the Vermont Biomedical Research Network. Recently they learned they will receive an additional $50,000 in grants through the Vermont Space Grant Consortium — $25,000 apiece from two separate applications — to continue their promising and rewarding work. The NASA Space Grant offers research funds through similar consortiums in all states to encourage colleges and universities to partner with the agency.
(posted July 2021)
Dagan Loisel of biology and Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of neuroscience/ psychology learned this semester that a “small-scale research grant” of $25,000 through Vermont Space Grant Consortium for which they applied earlier this year has been funded in full. The goal of the study funded by this grant is to identify stress-relieving countermeasures that astronauts could use during long-duration space missions to reduce stress and the resultant immune dysregulation (the term refers to negative changes in the body’s normal ability to fight off infections and disease). They will be collaborating with Dr. Brian Crucian, lead scientist for NASA’s Immunology/Virology Laboratory, and Dr. Satish Mehta, Virologist, who are scientists from NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) at Johnson Space Center. NASA’s HRP offered to match their grant funding if they were successful with our application, so the total award is for $50,000. Dagan said the project also will provide opportunities for Saint Michael’s students to get hands-on research experience studying human health. The project came about because of collaborative work that Melissa and Dagan did on the new Saint Michael’s Introduction to Health Sciences course this past fall. Basically, the activation of latent herpes viruses in humans is one consequence of stress in humans, and Dagan has expertise studying these viruses in other species, while Melissa’s research investigates stress using virtual navigation tools, so their collaboration fits neatly for this particular project.
(posted June 2020)