Thursday, November 27, 2014

URSP Student Matthew Bird Examines the MRIs of Subjects Genotypes for a Gene which Increases Alzheimers Disease

One day during a meeting with my mentor, I brought up the subject of possible internship opportunities.  Little did I know that my mentor had many ideas but not enough time to work on them all, and for that reason, was looking for students interested in the research.  I listened carefully as she explained each of the projects that she wanted to complete and one in particular piqued my interest.  This research would involve examining the MRIs of subjects genotyped for a gene which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in its carriers, and try to determine how having this gene affects the white matter areas of the brain. All of which sounded very interesting to me, both because of my interest in the medical field and my fascination with the workings of the brain. 

After my graduation, I plan on attending medical school and my work on this research will likely help me to stand out from the other applicants because I was able do hands-on research in the medical field, something few undergraduates are given the opportunity to do.  Due to my experience I am now much more knowledgeable about the research process and what I should be able to expect from future career opportunities.  But most importantly, my time spent on this study has shown me that though the scientific research process can be wearisome and at times downright meticulous, the results are very rewarding.  This knowledge helped to confirm for me that I had made the correct career choice.

My weekly schedule varied widely depending on which step of the process I was currently on. 
In the early stages of my research, my weeks involved writing and running various codes that ran things from textural analysis of the MRIs, to extracting just the brain tissue from the MRI’s, to the overlapping process of the white matter tracts.  Once the coding was finished, there was about a week break where I had to wait for the program to finish analyzing the data.  More recently, I have been transferring the data to Excel spreadsheets in order to organize it for the final remaining step in the process which is the data analysis.  This will involve using t-distributions to search for the differences in the white matter areas between carriers and non-carriers of the gene.

Until last week I had been working completely unaware of which patients had the gene we were looking for and which didn’t.  When I received the spreadsheet with the information allowing me to separate them into two distinct groups, I discovered that the three of the subjects whose MRI’s  I had been working with had not been genotyped and thus did not provide valid data and needed to have their information deleted from the records I had compiled.  This really goes to show that you can’t predict what is going to happen; anything could come along and alter the experiment, and although this time the result was negative, that isn’t always the case.