Functional Connectivity in the Brain – Summer Research

In my STEP experience, I spent May-August 2014 doing undergraduate research in a neurological stroke rehabilitation lab at the Wexner Medical Center under the oversight of Dr. Alexandra Borstad. Working full time hours with the help of STEP covering my living costs, I spent my time in the lab independently learning the track-weighted functional connectivity analysis procedure, a technique combining both functional data and diffusion-track data into one comprehensive image.  We hypothesize that track-weighted functional connectivity is sensitive to sensory-motor changes caused by stroke. Through the TWFC method, we performed a whole brain analysis in order to assess frontoparietal white matter network connections.

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Essentially, the objective of my STEP undergraduate experience was to learn the TWFC analysis procedure, and to be able to perform the data processing with a high degree of understanding. This will allow me to utilize TWFC analysis in my future undergraduate research on diminished white matter microstructure in persons with stroke. Previous studies have suggested white matter connections are critically important for hand and arm function, and that these connections are diminished after stroke. These studies also suggest that through motor rehabilitation efforts, reorganization of white matter connections occurs. TWFC may be a potential resource for insight into efficacy of rehabilitation, overall damage to the brain network, reorganization of networks, and even predicting the success of rehabilitation methods.

In regards to my thoughts on my STEP experience, I overall felt like this research experience was a substantial challenge that I was happy to face head on. I had not previously had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of hours in a lab due to financial limitations, and STEP made this possible for the first time in my academic career.  I feel that I am much more confident in my ability as a student researcher, and am capable of performing such research in the future. Most of all, through my interactions with stroke patients attending therapy sessions in the Borstad lab, I also realized that I greatly enjoy and respect the clinical atmosphere of medical recovery, and that it is very rewarding improving the lives of patients that you interact with face to face. With this in mind, I will undoubtedly be pursuing a clinical position in my later career, so that I may continue to improve the livelihoods of persons suffering from ailments such as stroke.

I plan on continuing the research I began through my STEP project throughout the remainder of my undergraduate career, as this research is still far from completed. With the framework and understanding of the methodology, it is now a matter of applying it to have a positive impact on our understanding of stroke. Nevertheless, I gained an important understanding of what I want to pursue as a career through this research, as I realized I greatly enjoyed interacting with stroke patients and found it to be immensely rewarding. While I am not currently set on a clinical specialization, I do know now that I want to work with patients in the future, a huge leap forward from before my experience.  Previously, I had little to no idea of what I truly wanted to do with my field or science background, and was greatly confused about which path to take moving forward. Now, I have a solid general direction towards clinical graduate programs, and past research experience to back it up. I am truly thankful to have been provided the opportunity to learn, improve myself, and develop future goals through my STEP experience.

Luke Lundy – Neuroscience 2016