Thursday, August 13, 2015

URSP Student Highlights: Divya Gutala

How do neuroinflammatory biomarkers related to stress in the brain increase vulnerability to traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Furthermore, how does this all occur in the context of a war zone?!  Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? I thought so too when I first started my project in Dr. Lipsky’s lab at the Krasnow Institute.  However, as I learned about t
he nuances of my project, I became fascinated with the opportunity to apply my classroom knowledge in Neuroscience to real-world situations.

I first became interested in this project because I wanted to understand how big of an impact stress could have on the human body. For example, the emotional stress in PTSD, a mental disorder, could manifest as physical damage in the form of TBI.
My interest escalated when I realized that my work could actually help the veteran population. Having heard accounts from the military doctors in my family further opened my eyes to the struggles that veterans with TBI and PTSD face because of their illness. Their life of fear and uncertainty after having sacrificed so much to defend our country compels me to help the situation, and this research offers me a chance to contribute in a small way to a bigger problem. This, coupled with my ambition to become a pediatric neurologist, was enough to motivate me to pursue research in one of the most exciting topics in Neuroscience.
My role in this project is to identify inflammatory proteins in rat brains. Inflammation is characteristic of brain injury and is usually a common physical reaction to stress. Every week, I perform ELISA tests on 3 different brain regions; frontal cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus. ELISA consists of a 96-well plate coated with antibodies that can capture these specific proteins, or antigens. The wells change color to confirm their presence. 

This past week, we discovered interesting changes in the frontal cortex, particularly in IFNy and TNFα proteins as shown by the increasing trend in the column data below. This suggests the presence of an inter-connected inflammatory pathway between stress and TBI in this region.

While I’ve finished the ELISA tests for now, the next steps involve analyzing the data and writing the manuscript to be sent for publication. But of course, my journey doesn’t end there. I plan to continue researching throughout undergrad, med school and beyond! Research has transformed my critical thinking, observation and communication skills and changed the way I view scientific information. It’s amazing how discoveries made in the lab can help prevent illnesses miles away, and I want to continue contributing to society through my work. This project and OSCAR have inspired me to do just that.