STEP Reflection- What?

This summer I spent ten weeks working in a biochemistry lab in Erlangen, Germany studying glucocorticoid receptor sensitivty and sphingolipid metabolism as potential biomarkers in depression through the DAAD RISE program. This was a clinical study that analyzed cells from the blood of four groups of individuals: non-medicated depressed/bipolar patients, medicated depressed/bipolar patients, people who have been in remission from depression/bipolar disorder for at lest two years, and healthy controls. A large part of my responsibility was optimizing a reaction buffer to study the activity of neutral sphingomyelinase in depression. The lab had previously found that acid sphingomyelinase had significantly higher activity in depressed individuals, and for the first time we were analyzing neutral sphingomyelinase. This optimization took significantly more work than expected, because of an interaction between two components of the buffer- detergent concentration had different effects on enzyme activity depending on sodium chloride concentration. In addition, we saw unexpected (but exciting) high variation in NSM activity between different patients, which only compounded the difficulties in determining the optimal buffering solution. Once I had the optimal buffer concentrations, I used samples from a previous study in which healthy male volunteers were administered either an antidepressant or placebo, to see the effects of antidepressants on NSM activity. In addition, I will be working with a parallel study stimulating blood plasma with LPS to produce a cytokine response, as measured by ELISAs. Previous studies have suggested that administration of dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid agonist, inhibits the production of cytokines in repsonse to LPS in healthy individuals, but this effect is dampened in those under chronic stress. I will be studying the effect of dexamethasone on LPS-induced cytokine production in blood plasma to determine a relationship between gluccoorticoid receptor sensitivity and depression.
In addition to my work in the lab, I have spent a lot of time traveling this summer. I have been to Munich, Berlin, Salzburg, Heidelberg, Zurich, Hamburg, Cologne, Vienna, Nuremberg, Liechtenstein, Krakow and Warsaw. I got to visit sites like Hohenzollern castle, Auschwitz, the Baltic sea, and Lichtenstein castle. I still have plans to go to Prague and Budapest and visit the famous Neuschwanstein castle. I have loved seeing each city’s different personality, and enjoying the historic and beautiful sites. Vienna had an artsy feel, each building achitecturally ornate, with multiple operas, musicians on every corner, and at night the people dressed up for a night at the theater. Hamburg was a party town, known for their red light district and full of bachelor and bachelorette parties. Berlin gave off the feeling of being modern, while at the same time having more history than any other place I visited. Zurich was a little stand-offish, clean and of course, rich. My appreciation and respect for other cultures have grown over the past few months; it is quite a different experience being a visitor in someone else’s country as opposed to simply learning about it while in the comfort of your own country.

David Youssef-Undergraduate Research

For my research project, I tested the effect of a glaucoma drug, Latanoprost, on the collagen content of corneas in order to access the change in biomechanical properties of the cornea. This involved culturing corneas in one of two mediums, a control without the drug and a treatment medium with the drug. The corneas were cultured for 24 hours. After culture, the cornea samples were uniformly cut, homogenized, and put through a series of reactions to produce a mixture whose color reflected the concentration of collagen. After putting the samples through the spectrometer, the relative amounts of collagen were determined for the two treatment groups.

My data in this project matched my hypothesis that the treated corneas would have less collagen than the untreated corneas. However, this result is not statistically significant, so nothing can be concluded about the effect of the drug on corneal collagen content. With this conclusion, I learned a lot about how hard it is to conduct research. One may believe that they have considered all of the possibilities and factors in an experiment, but find that there was something they missed. Going into this project, I thought the ideas and concepts involved were interesting but not as much as other things I have learned about. As I would troubleshoot through the problems I encountered, I found it harder to stay motivated to do so because I wasn’t in love with what I was doing. I learned that it is really difficult to conduct a good research study if you are not completely invested because it needs a person’s all in order to succeed.

As I said in the previous response, I found out that I wasn’t as interested in ocular mechanics as I had thought. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad field to get into, it just means that I need to work in a field that I find more interesting in order to be happier and succeed. I have already made changes in order to do so. I have always known I was interested in neuroscience and how it can be augmented and treated using engineering but wasn’t aware that there was a laboratory on campus that did so until I was completing this project. After completing it, I told my principal investigator of the ocular mechanics lab that I was planning on moving on and she was very understanding. I contacted the professor of the neuroscience laboratory and he accepted me into his lab. In a broader sense, this project affected how I view my trajectory. I learned that I need to be having relevant experiences in order to be more successful and work in the field I hope to work in in the future. I also learned what motivates me and that I am most successful when I am working on these things.

STEP Undergraduate Research Experience – Multiple Myeloma and Natural Killer Cells

What?

This past semester, I was able to use STEP funds to make progress on a research experience. I work in one of the cancer labs in the James Comprehensive Cancer Center. I specifically study Multiple Myeloma (MM), a type of blood cancer, as well as the Natural Killer (NK) Cell, a type of immune cell in our bodies. The main goal of the project was to study how an anti-myeloma drug affects the interaction between the MM and NK cells.

Lab reagents can cost easily hundreds to thousands of dollars. With the money that the STEP program provided, I was able to get enough research materials to see how the drugs affect NK cells. Since my research advisor, Dr. Don Benson, is an M.D. Ph.D., I was able to get patient blood samples from MM patients in his clinic. Using techniques I learned over the semester, I was able to pull out NK cells (and a few other immune cells) out of the blood. After extracting the NK cells, I maintained them in culture, and was able to give them the drug at various doses for various time points. These sorts of experiments allowed me to ask further questions such as “how much drug can I administer and still keep my cells alive?” or “what kinds of proteins are released by the cell when the drug is administered?”.

Many of these questions are still being answered. It’s impossible to learn everything in this field; however, my goal for the time being is to continue to seek answers and eventually publish my findings.

 

So What?

I felt as though my STEP research experience was much different than the typical research experience. I actually started during the Summer of 2014. After three months of working on an entirely different project, our lab came to the conclusion that the project was not viable. There was even a second failed attempt at a project before I started working on the current work. I felt as though I had wasted both time and money, however this was far from the truth. The time I had spent culturing cells, running experiments, and failing was not meaningless. Over the summer I began to understand how researchers go about finding answers to their questions. I was able to improve my skills designing experiments, as well as my basic lab techniques.

Around September, I had finally chosen my current project. I guess third time is the charm! After extending my STEP experience, I began to work on the project right away. It does not take long to figure out that in scientific research, 99% of your theories are bound to fail. Even though that may seem discouraging, it is the 1% that makes all the difference in the long run. Throughout the past year, I have also been able to get more involved in understanding Multiple Myeloma.

A few friends and I got together and created the first Multiple Myeloma awareness group on campus, and we are currently working with an MM awareness organization as well as Team Buckeye to put on events to spread the word on the disease. This would have never happened had it been for my research experience, so I am really glad that I was able to benefit from the experience both inside and outside the lab despite all the setbacks I faced.

 

Now What?

Working directly with patient samples, drugs, and cancers was really amazing, but it was actually the writing part of my experience that was the most beneficial of all. After I had preformed preliminary experiments with STEP funding, I was able to get a deeper understanding of the potential behind my project. I decided that during the start of the Spring Semester, I would apply for as many grants and scholarships as I could.

During the months of January and February, I wrote numerous drafts of all sorts of formats on project proposals to get more funding. The trickiest part is to explain all the science in layman’s terms such that someone with most basic understanding of science could grasp the significance of the project. I believe that this was the most significant part of the experience, because it allowed me to develop skills in communication that I definitely lacked before.

So far, including STEP, I have been able to get about $9,000 in funding and research scholarships, I fully intend to independently to try to pay for my own project independent of lab grants. I have also had the opportunity to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, and I hope to present my research some more next Autumn after I gain more data. This project will go into my honors thesis, but ultimately, I hope I can get a research publication out of it.

I aspire to go into medicine, and while I am not exactly decided on whether I want to focus on academic or clinical side, the skills I have learned – persistence and effective communication – will be crucial in any area of medicine.

STEP Undergraduate Research Experience-HTLV-1

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What?

Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV-1) is a retrovirus, notable for its ability to cause Adult T-cell Leukemia (ATL, Cancer). The molecular mechanism(s) on how this occurs have not been deciphered in great detail and thus there is no good treatment option to cure/prevent ATL. The overall goal of the Green lab is to study how HTLV-1 causes ATL, which will eventually lead towards better treatment options for this deadly disease. Specifically, my project that the STEP fellowship helped fund in the lab involves two viral factors believed to be important in the tumorigenesis process: Tax and HBZ. In order to further investigate the roles these viral factors play in the transformation process, serval molecular biology techniques are used including mammalian tissue culture, cell transfection, viral transduction, western blotting, RT-PCR, RNA/DNA isolation, and a reporter gene assay (luciferase assay).

So What?

Coming to Ohio State as an incoming freshman, I originally wanted to be a veterinarian. Growing up with animals and working in a small animal clinic in high school, this choice came natural to me.  However, after spending time in college, taking classes, and interacting with faculty members,  I realized that my curiosity and passion for science could not be fulfilled by just being your standard veterinarian. This led me to alter my career aspirations to instead become a veterinary scientist. This choice is idea for me as it lets you be involved in medicine while also having a research based career. Most veterinary scientists complete a dual degree DVM/PhD program. In order to be competitive for these dual degree programs, it is expected that you have significant research experience during your time as an undergraduate. I had worked as a research assistant previously in my department, but felt as if the experience was not what I needed to apply the combined degree program. Thus, I needed to find a medically relevant research lab here on campus.

When looking to join a lab last fall, the STEP fellowship gave me a competitive edge over other interested undergraduates looking to get involved in research due to the fact that I had funding for the potential project that I would be working on. This is important because from the perspective of the faculty member running the lab, undergraduates take time and money to train as they are inexperienced. The STEP funds help offset that cost, thus making me a suitable choice. As previously stated, in order to be competitive for these dual degree programs, it is expected that you have significant research experience during your time as an undergraduate. Using the STEP fellowship to let me join a highly productive lab full of graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, etc.. not only makes you competitive when applying to various graduate schools, but it will teaches invaluable molecular biology research skills. This is important because to be a top-notch research your skills certainly do not develop overnight. I have already learned a whole plethora of new molecular biology skills including western blotting, polymerase chain reaction, and my favorite: viral transductions.

Now what?

Now that the STEP fellowship as helped me join the lab that I am in now, I will continue to work on my research project. I have also decided to stay here on campus this summer as the nature of research is very time consuming. The ultimate goal in the lab I am in now is to get put as a co-author on a publication out the lab. This will be made possible through the help of my PI, graduate students, and post-docs in the lab. I will also be applying to various dual degree programs this summer to continue my pursuit of a veterinary scientist. As mentioned previously, the STEP fellowship has played a role in developing my skills as a researcher, and has open doors to allow me to gain invaluable molecular biology skills. For example, it is common for me to infect cells with retroviruses and change their genome at the molecular level. A skill such as this is something that I predict will be very valuable in the field of medicine as we begin to understand our own genetics and feel confident in manipulating the genome to cure diseases. After completing my senior thesis in the lab next year, I know this will be one of many exciting research experiences in my life time and the STEP fellowship contributed to what I would argue is my most important research experience during my undergraduate career here at Ohio State.

HFES Conference STEP Reflection

What?

I traveled to Chicago to present research at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2014 annual concert in October. However, I did far more than present while I was there. The first night I was there I had the opportunity to go to an opening gala reception where I met several physicians who do both clinical work and work in the human factors field. Each of the four days after the first I had the opportunity to go to several presentations on a variety of subjects from interruptions in health care to flight simulation. While I mostly went to presentations that were in the field of health care, I gained valuable experience from going to those that presented outside of my field as I could see similar research methods utilized in completely different areas of research. On Wednesday I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of Northwestern University’s Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Department. This tour was a fascinating experience and depicted research done in a physical therapy lab and various machines used to re-train muscles. On Thursday I finally presented my poster and was pleased with how much traffic I received and the way that I handled questions. I met several other people in the health care field that knowing could potentially help me in the future. Friday morning I headed out of Chicago to come back to Columbus.

Other than the conference itself, I also had the pleasure of exploring the city of Chicago in the evenings. On two nights I went to see improvisational comedy, a performing art that the city is known for. Improv is a hobby of mine and it was a great experience seeing it at its best. Overall it was a week of great learning experiences.

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So What?

My STEP experience was an eye opening experience. It was a great opportunity to break out of my shell as I have struggled to meet professionals in the past. But the HFES conference made it easy and I was able to meet several physicians. I now have more confidence in my networking skills. Additionally, I expected to be over prepared for my poster presentation on Thursday. I have a history of public speaking and performing and thought this would be no different. And while I feel that it went well, it was not as easy as I expected. It was difficult being questioned on the material I was presenting and it required a different skill set that I expected. In the future I will be able to prepare for presentations with potential questions to be asked in mind. This will help me become a better research presenter. I learned that though I have the potential to be a good presenter, I need to make myself do the work. I have a tendency to leave things until the last minute, but STEP has helped me realize it is worth putting in preparation early.

Now What?

I am very grateful for my participation in the STEP program for several reasons, but two come to the forefront of my mind. One, the process of writing a proposal and attempting to make it competitive and representative of my intentions. I liked this a lot because most people, especially in academia, will write many proposals going forward whether it be for scholarships, grants, or graduate school. Secondly, connecting with a faculty member was immensely helpful. The STEP program makes it very easy to talk with a faculty member one on one and form a relationship that might otherwise be difficult to form. Additionally, it introduces faculty members to students that they might otherwise never have come in contact with. For example, Dr. Inpanbutr teaches in the veterinary school. Chances are, our paths would not have crossed in my time at OSU, and she has been incredibly helpful to me both in the STEP program and out of it.

 

My STEP experience was helpful for several reasons. It was my first time presenting any research at a conference. I found that I enjoy it quite a bit and would like to continue to research even as I move forward into medical school. Additionally, at the conference I attended I met several established physicians. I hope that they will be able to help me along the way and that I have made lifelong contacts. Finally, my STEP experience served to solidify my interest in human factors research. The field is so important in every area of life. There is always a desire to make things work more efficiently and better for people. I hope to continue to use these critical thinking skills to continue improving anything I take part in moving forward.

Summer Research

What?

I was an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Nelson’s lab, a lab that focuses on neuroendocrinology. The graduate student I worked with, my mentor, did research on disruption of circadian rhythms in mice.She evaluated the effects of high fat diet and light at night on the metabolism of mice and how it can lead to obesity and other medical problems, physical and psychological. Her studies also look at metabolic changes in mice pups and at what time exposure to dim light leads to either leptogenic or obesogenic factors depending on sexual maturity. All of her studies focused on observing the effects of dim light at night. Exposure to dim light at night disrupts circadian signaling to both the central and peripheral organs leading to impaired mood, cognition, metabolism, and other homeostatic properties. Dim light at night also has a diminishing effect on the clock gene and protein expression, especially the liver clock. Another study included how dim light at night in hamsters could lead to epigenetic modifications in successive generations, without necessarily causing weight gain. I helped her with behavioral tests like elevated plus, forced swim test, and tail suspension. I scored these tests to analyze depression and anxiety levels in mice. We also carried out glucose tolerance tests on mice to analyze how effective the uptake of blood glucose is. I also helped with the daily care of the animals, as in changing their cages, recording cage activity, weighing specific food, and weighing the mice on a weekly basis.  I helped with tissue collection of mice; collected brown adipose tissue, heart, brain, liver, adrenal glands, and spleen. To better understand the projects my mentor was doing, I read articles and journals on the topic of circadian rhythms, epigenetics, and the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

So What?

I really enjoyed doing the research projects over the summer. Since I was taking only one class, I could focus my time on research, as compared to the school year. I not only learned about neuroendocrinology, but I was also able to observe the interactions between graduate students and the PI and lab technicians. I joined a research lab to help me decide if I wanted to go to graduate school or medical school. Through this experience, I learned to appreciate what research is and how much work goes into carrying out a proposal. However, I realized that I want to pursue being a doctor over being a researcher. There is  a lot of trial and error, repeating experiments and waiting time that occurs in research. I think I prefer doing new things and interacting with patients more than I do conducting experiments. I still find research interesting in that it is the future of medical advancements. So, to be a part of figuring out what could be the causes of certain physiological problems, is a privileged experience.

I learned how to take care of animals and how important it is to adhere to every small detail of the protocol. There are so many factors, known and unknown, which affect the study. The goal is to minimize as many as possible, and have enough controls so that the results are just due to the aspects being manipulated in the study. Tissue collection was the most interesting part to me. I was keen in learning how to dissect mice and to see the differences between the mice on regular diet and high fat diet.

Now What?

I would definitely like to do an honors thesis my senior year. I hope to be able to start on my own project next summer. I would probably continue one of my mentor’s projects. I’m especially interested in the sex differences that occur in the dim light at night studies. The females seem to act differently than males as they don’t gain as much weight from being exposed to light at night. It would be interesting to try to figure out what factors are behind this phenomenon. One of our studies found that the females try to make it up for eating high fat diet by being more active than the males, and this could contribute to a decreased weight gain.

I think the undergraduate research experience will be a much better learning experience once I get my own project. With my own project, I would be more committed to learning all I can about the subject and be more determined to set aside more time for research. Writing my own protocol will help me understand what goes into planning an experiment and how much background work must be done to write one. I will also learn how to schedule everything, plan a budget, keep in mind the goal of the study the whole time, and how to deal with frustrations and obstacles that come in my way during the experiment. I hope to present my findings at a research forum, and especially aim to present at the Denman. The summer has been a big step in being involved in research in college, and STEP has given me the push I needed in the right direction.

Vascularization of Tissue Engineered Bone Grafts

What?

From May-August of 2014 I spent my time as an undergraduate research assistant in the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies in Dr. David Dean’s lab.  The laboratory’s mission focuses on the creation of tissue engineered bone grafts through 3D printing. My work aims to test new methods of pre-vascularizing these bone grafts using a fibrin hydrogel seeded with stem cells, thereby inducing angiogenesis of new vasculature and anastomosis with host vasculature and ideally creating a more functional bone graft. What I really love about the Dean lab is the level of involvement that undergraduates have in their projects. In my projected, I have an active role from start to finish. I search the literature and determine methods, discuss with collaborators across the globe,  plan my experiments, execute my experiments, analyze the data, and even work to publish the results.

So What?

Research has taught me resilience and patience above all. The ability to independently work to create novel solutions to difficult problems has been invaluable to my personal growth. Class is really good at teaching you to find “the right answer”, but research teaches you to be an independent thinker, to go out in the world and use every skill at your disposal to hammer out a solution to life’s unsolved problems. In a world overflowing with college grads and never enough spots to put them, I think this is the quality that distinguishes you from the masses. After graduation everyone can hold up a degree and a GPA, but I can say that I contributed something to this world through my work.

Now What?

I hope to continue my education in veterinary school following the completion of my undergrad. Beyond the animal experience my research has allowed me, I believe my research makes me a unique candidate for future veterinary work. One of the biggest challenges I faced in previous veterinary internships was the inability of families to pay for their animal’s medical care. A human receives medical care regardless of whether or not they can pay, but many animals are euthanized simply for lack of funds. I believe that my experiences in research and engineering help me to not just shrug it off, but to continually ask, “what can I do to find a solution?”. My research has encouraged me to consider completing a senior thesis and even to pursue a PhD program in graduate school.

Throughout my research project I was able to perform surgeries on mice with the future possibility of working on larger animal models. These surgeries have allowed numerous hours of both animal and veterinary experience required for the common vet school application. Additionally, in my research I spend the vast majority of my time in meetings, discussing strategy and new ideas and making sure to go through all the proper approval channels. If there were such a thing as logging “communication hours”, I could set a new record. If I chose not to enter the veterinary world, I now have significant experience in experimental design, execution, the fundamental principles of tissue engineering, and plenty of essay writing for funding. In order to complete my time in research for which I used my STEP funding, I also left behind my family and friends and gave up my summer break to work 2000 miles away in a lab. Surely this displays a certain resiliency in character. All in all, a research laboratory is not where I hope to end up. However, I believe I have taken many valuable skills away from this experience.

 

 

Megan Posukonis- Biomedical Engineering 2016

 

Hepatocellular Carcinoma Research

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For my STEP experience, I conducted undergraduate research on the study of Hepatocellular Carcinoma. I am a part of Dr. Jacob and Dr. Ghoshal’s Laboratory in the Comprehensive Cancer Research Center at The Ohio State University under the instruction of Dr. Samson Jacob and Dr. Kalpana Ghoshal.

The purpose of our laboratory is to identify microRNAs highly expressed in the liver, and to determine the cancerous consequences if those microRNAs are deregulated. Primary hepatocytes, cell culture, diseased liver tissues, and mouse models are utilized to better understand the biological roles of microRNAs, and to aid in development of therapies for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

MicroRNA 122 (miR-122) is the most abundant liver- specific microRNA. After undergoing cellular processing, it is expressed during late stages of embryonic development. In the laboratory of Dr. Jacob and Dr. Ghoshal, miR-122 was found to be reduced in both rodent and human HCCs. Furthermore, loss of miR-122 in the liver causes HCC to spontaneously develop in liver-specific knockout (LKO) mice. Overexpression of miR-122  in HCC  cell lines reduces tumerogenesis, which suggests that it functions as a tumor suppressor. MiR-122 also targets small molecules in signaling pathways associated with apoptosis and metastasis.

My contribution to these goals included researching four miR-122 targets. Those gene targets are TIMP2, Prakaca, SNAI2, and LIMK1. The reason that these particular four genes are important is because of their involvement with apoptotic pathways, Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition, and are tumor suppressors.

Data obtained from real-time PCR (qPCR) showed significant upregulation of SNAI2 and LIMK1 in miR-122 KO mice. Since gene expression of SNAI2 and LIMK1 is downregulated in normal, healthy mice, this upregulation shown in miR-122 KO mice is suggestive that miR-122 functions to suppress these genes. Based on HITSCLIP data, microarray analysis, and qPCR data, SNAI2 and LIMK1 are both potential miR-122 targets. As targets, this indicates that these two genes are involved in the HCC pathway, and contribute to the development of liver cancer in cells.

To complete my own experiments and to aid in the experiments of others in our laboratory, I learned and mastered the following techniques:

  • Tail Extraction
  • Gel Electrophoresis
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR)
  • Primer Design
  • Cell Culture
  • Vector Cloning & Luciferase Reporter Assay

Because of STEP, I was able to utilize the $2000.00 funding to cover living expenses May through August. By living in Columbus, I was able to effectively commute to the Tzagournis building on Ohio State’s campus. I was also able to successfully complete courses Physics 1201, History 3642, and Classics 2210 during this time period. If not for the STEP program, I would not have had an enriched academic experience during the summer, nor would I have been able to develop new skills through research.

One of the most incredible parts of the STEP program included being able to interact one-on-one with faculty. I felt that my interactions with not only my cohort faculty member, but also the faculty members of my entire house really enhanced my experience. 

I learned that my personal strengths include verbal and written communication. I am proud of the poster I was able to present at the STEP expo, and that I was able to convey the meaning and relevance of my project. Being awarded the Dean’s Best In Show Award was an incredible honor, and was personally inspiring to me to continue forward in my research with even greater enthusiasm than before.

Moving forward, I am currently continuing my research in Ohio State’s Department of Pathology. I will continue to research and identify other gene targets of mir122. My future directions include:

  • Determine if TIMP2 and Prakaca are also potential targets using qPCR
  • Complete TIMP2 Luciferase Reporter Assay  to confirm as target
  • Conduct Luciferase Reporter Assays for Prakaca, SNAI2, LIMK1
  • Continue to contribute to overall laboratory purpose through continued genotyping of mice

Following the STEP Expo, I have since completed the TIMP2 Luciferase Reporter Assay, and have confirmed with statistically significant evidence that TIMP2 is a miR-122 target. We are continuing to investigate the TIMP2 target gene region since it appears that the region has several properties unique to itself, including a “bulge” binding region. I will then conduct a final Luciferase Assay with a mutant miR-122 TIMP2 binding site.

 

Ocular Biomechanics Research

What?

The biomechanical properties of the posterior sclera are thought to be important in glaucoma susceptibility. Assessment of the posterior sclera biomechanics is currently unavailable In vivo but methods are being developed to characterize the biomechanical properties of the anterior portion of the eye. The objective of this study was to characterize the regional dynamic viscoelastic properties of porcine sclera to examine possible correlation between anterior and posterior sclera. Scleral strips were excised from the temporal region of the anterior and posterior portions of 16 porcine eyes. The scleral strips were tested in a humidity chamber at approximately 35° C. A cyclic strain was applied to the strips and the cyclic stress output was recorded. A ramp test was then conducted. The complex modulus of the anterior and posterior scleral were 2.2±1.7 and 0.5±0.5 MPa, the secant modulus at 1% were 1.63±1.46 and 0.48±0.36 MPa, and the dynamic viscosity were 0.06±0.04 and 0.01±0.03, respectively. However, a correlation between the anterior and posterior sclera has not been established. The anterior porcine sclera appeared to be stiffer than the posterior sclera, which was consistent with previous findings. The relationship between sclera collagen content and biomechanical properties will be investigated in future studies.

So What? 

Throughout this experience, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and was challenged to develop skills to be a good researcher. I lost my fear to ask questions, developed careful, rigorous, and algorithmic thinking from conducting experiments, and regained my wonder for how complicated the world is. In addition, I learned that though research is incredibly important to conduct the knowledge of the human race, it is not something that I would prefer to make a career out of conducting research.

Now What? 

This opportunity has given me an experience that has shaped how I view the academic world. Conducting research has opened my mind to the complexity of the world and how to go about solving problems that there is truly no answer in a textbook or in the literature.

Academically, I am now more motivated to learn relevant material and soak up as much knowledge as I can so I am better able to design experiments that are effective and insightful with respect to the data gathered. Personally, I still have the same goals of being a physician; however, I am now equipped with a better understanding of how clinical questions and the advancement of patient care is advanced through the frontlines of research. I still have the same life goal of becoming a physician to help people live healthy lives; however, now I have more passion and desire as a result of understanding how the clinical knowledge is advanced through research.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP Summer Research

What?

In March, I met with my research mentor, Dr. Bloomston, who is a surgical oncologist at the Wexner Medical Center.  We decided that my project would focus on a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.  Specifically, I would look at the development of this disease in patients who underwent a surgery known as the Whipple procedure (formally known as pancreaticoduodenectomy). First, I did a lot of reading to familiarize myself with NAFLD and the surgery.  I reviewed as many papers as I could find that were similar to what my project focused on.  Then I compiled a spreadsheet of all the data I wanted to collect and received a list of patients whose charts I would review.  I accessed the patients’ charts while working in the office for fellows the surgical oncology fellowship.  At first I collected mostly demographic data and would make a note if a patient met any of the exclusion criteria (such as Hepatitis B/C, or alcoholism).  While some charts very clearly showed the data I was looking for, other charts were not as simple.  Many times I had to comb through several physician’s notes to find what I was looking for.  Also, part of my study included taking values from CT scans that patients had before and after their surgery.  Finally, I collected lab values from before and after surgery.  While I only had fully completed data on 27 patients in time for the STEP Expo, I’m continuing to work on this project and hope to have data on at least 100 patients completed by the winter.

So What?

This is my second chart review-based project I have worked on – the first I completed when I was senior in high school (also done with Dr. Bloomston as my mentor).   I think with a few more years of college level science (biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, genetics, etc.) under my belt, my understanding of and appreciation of surgical and medical oncology has grown tremendously.  Not only have I learned more about the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, I’ve also gained valuable insight into the career as a physician.  To some, combing through a patient’s medical record could seem boring or tedious.  Perhaps thinking, “I’ve never met this person… what does this matter to me?” But I was so fascinated with each chart I read.  To me, each chart told a story.  Not necessarily the patient’s personal story (aside from a brief mention of their spouse or career) but a medical story – the progression and battle against their disease, which more often than not, was pancreatic cancer.  After diagnosis and an initial clinical visit, surgeons would make their assessment and plan the surgery.  In the weeks following the operation, the charts showed the patients recovering, in some cases a very long and difficult process, sometimes with complications.  Some ended on a good note, some charts ended very abruptly, noting a phone call with a spouse delivering the news of the patients passing.  Each patient had a different story of his or her disease, each inspiring to read.  But in addition, I had a clear view into the mind of the doctor.  What their impressions were upon examination, and after an operation.  I learned what doctors pay attention to, what they think during an exam, and what their thought are afterwards.  It was so intriguing to have a small window into the mind of someone who has years of medical knowledge.  It gives me something to strive towards and strengthens my determination to pursue a career in medicine.

Now What?

One thing that really interested me as a result of this project was variety of chemotherapy drugs that were used after surgery to help kill the rest of the cancer if it was particularly aggressive or metastasizing.  I found myself looking up different drugs on the internet, looking and their structures and molecular mechanisms of action.  I’m sure that my interest stems somewhat from what I’ve learned classes like organic or biochemistry.  In fact, I decided to pursue research like this further – I’m now working in a cancer research lab at the biomedical research tower, looking at cell signaling between tumor cells and the surrounding environment.  I haven’t made any definitive decisions about what I plan to do after I graduate, but I think I’d be very happy doing translation research, work that starts in the laboratory and is eventually applied to patient health.  I would love nothing more than being able to treat patients based on basic science research that I could also do.  There are physician-scientist training programs that offer this, but I’ve got plenty of time to decide.  For now, I plan on continuing my work and learning as much as I can.