Dr. Stephen Sammut - Psychology | Franciscan University of Steubenville
  • SammutS_1

    Dr. Stephen Sammut

    Professor of Psychology

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    Education

    • Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Malta (Msida, Malta)
    • B.Pharm, Pharmacy College, Monash University (Parkville, VIC, Australia)

    Professional Experience

    • Post Doctoral Research Associate & Lab Manager, Department of Neuroscience (Lab PI: Dr. AR. West), Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (North Chicago, IL 60064)

    Technique Experience

    • Voltammetry/Amperometry
    • Electrophysiology
    • Behavioral Experiments
    • Behavioral Models
    • Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy

    Professional Memberships

    • Society for Neuroscience (SFN)
    • Fellowship of Catholic Scholars
    • Society of Catholic Social Scientists
    • American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG)
    • World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education (WECARE)

      Research Interests

      Animal models of disease remain crucial as a tool in science, helping us understand the mechanisms behind various human diseases by attempting to imitate to the best of our ability the pathologies of interest. In psychology (and related sciences), such models of disease are utilized to investigate the physiological mechanisms involved in psychiatric disorders. It is our goal to utilize such behavioral modeling of psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and drug abuse to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to dysfunctional behavior.

      Current Projects

      •  ABORTION STUDY: An objective investigation into the potential biological, behavioral and physiological consequences of induced abortion 

        Goal of the Study:

        Approximately 20% of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion. The health implications of abortion on women continues to be a source of heated debate at the social, moral, ethical, scientific and political levels. Various health concerns have been reported, short- and long-term. These include both physiological (e.g. increased risk of cancer) and psychological effects (e.g. increased risk of mood disorders (including depression), anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide) on women who have undergone an abortion. 

        Given the seriousness of the potential mental health and physical consequences, and the difficulty of treating them if they occur, it is necessary to appropriately investigate these potential links to the abortion procedure, even if it is simply out of an ethical obligation to truthfully inform those opting to undergo an abortion. Unlike many other situations in medicine, there has not been any objective pre-clinical investigation of the potential serious physiological consequences of the termination of a viable pregnancy. Given the complex changes in the body associated with pregnancy, it is impossible to expect that terminating a viable pregnancy is without its consequences. 

        The goal of our study is to provide an objective investigation into the potential biological, physiological, neurological and behavioral consequences of an induced abortion in an animal model (a laboratory rat), providing information that is purely objective and without influence of social and moral norms. While animals and humans are different, there are many similarities in the physiology, the way the brain works, and the resulting behaviors (e.g. in stress). The findings of the study should provide further insight into the potential consequences of abortion. 

        In summary, it is our hope that the findings from our study will reveal urgently needed information that is currently not available, related to the physiological and neurological consequences of abortion and how they affect behavior.

        What we have found so far:

        Our first study focused on mid-term chemically-induced abortion (also known as medical abortion). This involves the administration of drugs to terminate the life of the baby and expel it from the womb. 

        The findings of this first phase have been presented at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego (See more here), in addition to other smaller conferences. We are currently preparing the manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. 

        In general, our results appear to indicate negative behavioral effects of pregnancy termination and also possible protective effects of pregnancy.

        Read the study

      • ECTOPIC PREGNANCY STUDY

        Goal of the study:

        Ectopic pregnancy (the implantation of the embryo outside of the uterus) affects approximately 1 in 40 pregnancies. Unfortunately, there are currently no treatments that can be utilized to save the life of the baby, meaning that such cases of ectopic pregnancy end with the termination of the baby’s life. 

        The goal of our study is to investigate the potential for developing a surgical technique that could be used to transfer an embryo/fetus in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. As it is not ethical to conduct this experimentation in humans, the goal of our work is to develop this technique in an animal (the laboratory rat) in the hope that the information can benefit humans.

        While the reproductive anatomy of the rat is different from that of the human, its design gives us an opportunity to investigate a scenario that would allow us to understand the potential factors that would be involved in such a transfer.
        In summary, it is our hope that the findings from our study will provide the medical community with a foundation for the further investigation of such a surgical procedure in the human, preserving both the life of the mother and the baby. 

        The proposal discussed above has been reviewed scientifically and an initial start-up grant of $50,000 was awarded by the Watson Bowes Research Institute. These funds have been utilized to purchase some of the necessary equipment, as well as to pay a part-time salary for a research assistant who works full-time, volunteering for the other half of the time.

       

      Select Publications & Accomplishments

      Publications list
      • BIOLOGICAL, BEHAVIORAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF DRUG-INDUCED PREGNANCY TERMINATION AT FIRST-TRIMESTER HUMAN EQUIVALENT IN AN ANIMAL MODEL.
        Camilleri C, Beiter RM, Puentes L, Aracena-Sherck P, Sammut S. (2019) Biological, Behavioral and Physiological Consequences of Drug-Induced Pregnancy Termination at First-Trimester Human Equivalent in an Animal Model. Front Neurosci 2019;13.
      • Facilitation of Corticostriatal Transmission following Pharmacological Inhibition of Striatal Phosphodiesterase 10A : Role of Nitric Oxide-Soluble Guanylyl Cyclase-cGMP Signaling Pathways. The Journal of Neuroscience.
        Padovan-Neto FE, Sammut S, Chakroborty S, Dec AM, Threlfell S, Campbell PW, Mudrakola V, Harms JF, Schmidt CJ, West AR (2015) Facilitation of Corticostriatal Transmission following Pharmacological Inhibition of Striatal Phosphodiesterase 10A : Role of Nitric Oxide-Soluble Guanylyl Cyclase-cGMP Signaling Pathways The Journal of Neuroscience 35: 14. 5781-5791
      • The Prevalence and Correlates of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in a Sample of College Students. Journal of Affective Disorders.
        Beiter R, Nash R, McCrady M, Rhoades D, Linscomb M, Clarahan M, Sammut S. (2015) The Prevalence and Correlates of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in a Sample of College Students. Journal of Affective Disorders 173, 90-96.(published online 11/18/2014; doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.10.054)
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      • Inhibition of Striatal Soluble Guanylyl Cyclase-cGMP Signaling Reverses Basal Ganglia Dysfunction and Akinesia in Experimental Parkinsonism. PLoS ONE 
        Tseng KY, Caballero A, Dec A, Cass DK, Simak N, Sunu E, Park MJ, Blume SR, Sammut S, Park DJ, West AR. (2011) Inhibition of Striatal Soluble Guanylyl Cyclase-cGMP Signaling Reverses Basal Ganglia Dysfunction and Akinesia in Experimental Parkinsonism PLoS ONE 6(11): e27187. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027187

      • Nitric oxide-soluble guanylyl cyclase signaling regulates corticostriatal transmission and short-term synaptic plasticity of striatal projection neurons recorded in vivo. Neuropha 
        Sammut, S., Threlfell, S., and West, A.R. (2010) Nitric oxide-soluble guanylyl cyclase signaling regulates corticostriatal transmission and short-term synaptic plasticity of striatal projection neurons recorded in vivo. Neuropharmacology; 58(3):624-631

      • Inhibition of phosphodiesterase 10A increases the responsiveness of striatal projection neurons to stimulation of frontal cortical afferents. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 
        Threlfell S., Sammut S., Menniti, F.S., Schmidt, C.J., West, AR. (2009) Inhibition of phosphodiesterase 10A increases the responsiveness of striatal projection neurons to stimulation of frontal cortical afferents. J Pharmacol Exp Ther.; 328:785-795

      • Acute cocaine administration increases NO efflux in the rat prefrontal cortex via a neuronal NOS-dependent mechanism. Synapse 
        Sammut S. & West AR. (2008). Acute cocaine administration increases NO efflux in the rat prefrontal cortex via a neuronal NOS-dependent mechanism. Synapse Sep; 62(9):710-3
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