SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — The head of Louisiana State University Shreveport‘s biology department says variety in concentrations gives the university a rare strength over similar programs at other colleges and universities.

Dr. Santosh D’Mello, Professor & Chair of the LSUS Biology Department, says that many universities have become more connected to biomedical issues while LSUS maintains a more traditional biology department.

“Louisiana State University Shreveport has a more traditional biology department, and that’s the strength of it,” D’Mello said. “LSUS has got a variety of concentrations, including organism biology and ecology. These are areas that were underrepresented in biology departments that are all of a sudden getting attention because environmental issues like global warming, extinction of insects and birds—these things are having devastating effects on the planet.”

D’Mello, a Neuroscientist, received his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and his postdoctoral training at Boston University Medical School and was hired as the Chair of the biology department at LSUS in 2021.  

“What really got me excited was people consider this a more modern kind of department,” D’Mello said. “I see this as a place where I can really contribute. I’m excited because our students come mainly from Northwest Louisiana, and I think this is an area where there’s a lot of work to be done. Getting our girls and boys from Northwest Louisiana into medical school, into graduate school, into a position where they’re in management in science, in drug companies, and so on.”

Biology research at LSUS

D’Mello said adding more research into the biology department is crucial.

”We’re going to be much more research-involving than we were before I got here. We’re going to build a science annex building, which will be used for high-quality research. We have microscopes, a microscope tissue-culture suite, and the amount of things that have been given to the biology department have been incredible. We’ve had a tremendous growth in faculty and we’re likely to hire another member of faculty. We’re selecting good candidates who want to be here and who are excited about LSUS.”

Exciting research is happening behind the scenes in the biology department. From examining the DNA of lizards to studying the ability of our brains to regenerate brain cells, LSUS takes lab work seriously. In one lab, a scientist studies the habits of roaches from Madagascar. Another researcher teamed up with Plantation Point Nursery in Mooringsport to study tissue cultures of the Louisiana Iris.

“Different faculty are doing different types of research,” D’Mello said. “It’s like being in a chocolate shop, and there are all these exciting things.”

D’Mello said two biologists are working on cancer research projects at LSUS.

“People have known that plants are rich in medicinal properties,” he said. “But for a long time, people relied on synthetic drugs. But now we’re going back to plants, finding medicine complexes and purifying active compounds that have therapeutic properties. It’s a big deal, and that’s what (one of LSUS’s scientists) is doing in the context of cancer. And we have another biologist who works on cancer with traditional treatments.”

D’Mello’s research is on brain development and brain degeneration to develop drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. “I’m hoping that will be funded,” he said.

What can you do with a biology degree from LSUS?

Around 10% of graduates at LSUS are biology majors, and the University has a graduate program for those interested in advanced studies.

The program length is estimated to be four years for first-time freshmen, and concentrations are available in cellular and molecular biology, environmental science, field and organismal biology, and forensic science.

“We have an MS degree program. We’re thinking of getting a Ph.D. degree program, but it’s not going to happen in the next few years. It’s a goal,” said D’Mello with a smile.

The Master of Science in biological sciences prepares students to be competitive applicants to health and biomedical professional school programs.

LSUS’ biology department is academically diverse, “and that is LSUS’s strength,” said D’Mello. He said the college has been one of the best-kept secrets in north Louisiana for a long time, but things are changing.

“We don’t want to be a secret anymore. We want people to come to LSUS biology department.”

Recently there was an agreement signed between the Louisiana State University Health Shreveport and LSUS, where students are guaranteed a medical school interview if they meet certain criteria.

“Fulfil the criteria, and you’re guaranteed an interview,” D’Mello said. “All your previous record is not relevant once you get your interview. The interviewers don’t have your set of records, I’m told. I think our students will do great once they’re in the interviews for medical school.”

D’Mello says LSUS is trying to get students into medical school, and medical schools want well-trained students in their programs.

“We’re also working with a nursing program at the LSU Health-Science Center in New Orleans. In the spring, we’ll offer LSU Health Science Center New Orleans satellite instructional site courses for nursing program students right here on campus at LSUS. The scientists and the administrators are working together to make this possible.”