For my research project, I will compare the levels of a known marker of inflammation in and around motor neurons in rats with and without cervical spinal cord injury. We will examine rats with chronic C2 incomplete spinal cord injuries, and compare them to uninjured tissues. We will be examining the frozen and preserved tissue under a microscope to quantify the different levels and locations of inflammatory markers at the different time points. The results of this experiment are important because they will enable us to better treat those who have suffered from the devastating effects of spinal cord injuries. This experiment is necessary to determine if p38 MAP kinase (a specific known marker of inflammation) is activated following spinal cord injury. The results will allow us to determine how to proceed in our search for successful rehabilitative treatments for patients. If p38 MAP kinase is activated following injury, it may call for future studies to investigate treatment of this specific cause of neuroinflammation in order to improve the outcomes of the rehabilitative treatments our lab is studying. Neuroinflammation can decrease the positive effects of rehabilitative efforts, and therefore is something we need to study so we can reduce this inflammation and better treat those who are suffering from spinal cord injury.
Life in the Lab
My experience in the lab was very educational. I did not realize how many different things actually go into research. I became familiar with behind-the-scenes tasks that you do not realize need to be done. For example, we spent a large majority of our time sectioning tissue, which I never realized would be such a large and time-consuming part of the experimental process. In addition, I became independent in many different techniques and procedures used in our lab. I learned proper animal handling and care, the methods used for immunohistochemistry, as well as proper imaging strategies and techniques on the Keyence microscope that we use in our lab. I also learned how to problem solve when problems arose. I found that one of the biggest challenges in research is how time-consuming and detail-oriented everything is. It is necessary to plan very far in advance and plan other aspects of your day around what is needed in lab. I was studying for the MCAT while completing my research project this summer, and I found it very difficult to dedicate time to studying. However, I quickly learned to manage my time wisely and study during down-time in lab and in the evenings. I believe this skill is not only valuable for research, but will also help me throughout my life.
Although what I did day-to-day varied, there were certain tasks that remained constant. For example, animal care and running exposures was something that needed to be completed by someone every day, so I was usually around to help out with those two things. In addition, the weeks were organized in a way that there usually was not more than one big task going on at a time. For example, there were weeks focused on surgeries, as well as others focused on perfusions and harvesting. What I did between rounds of animal care throughout the day varied depending on the week and what needed to be completed. Some days were filled with staining, while others dealt with microscopy. In my opinion, the best part of working in a lab was how often you were able to see your hard work pay off. Although the experiments tend to take at least a few months to complete, there are many milestones where you begin to see the outcomes of all of your hard work. Personally, I thought the hardest part of my time in research was not having set-in-stone days. Your schedule can vary every day depending on the point of the project you are in and what needs to be done, so you need to be able to adjust your plans and schedule around your lab responsibilities.
One of the best parts about working in a lab is being a part of a large team with a common goal. It is much more rewarding to accomplish a goal when everyone is working on it together in my opinion, and it’s nice to always have people around who are willing to help you and your project succeed. Research is usually not a one-person job, and for good reason; there is so much that goes on to ensure that a project is successful, and everyone in lab is needed. Throughout my research experience, I have developed a deep appreciation for how important research is to the functionality of many different aspects of society. Advancements in everything from technology to medicine would not be possible if scientists were not working hard in lab each and every day, and I am glad I will be able to take this appreciation for research into my future career. Research is a tough task, but it is truly life-changing in more ways than one.