Monday, April 6, 2015

URSP Student Bobby Graham Discovers a New Type of Neuronal Tissue

I have been drawn to the nervous system more so than the other systems since early biology classes in grade school. While other systems were certainly interesting, the nervous system perplexed me in ways I still cannot comprehend. From one individual neuron to an enormous conglomerate of information pathways, the methods in which the nervous system contributes to our thoughts, feelings, motion, and essential underlying processes has captivated me more than anything else I’ve studied. This ultimately led to me wishing to work in George Mason University’s Neural Engineering Lab. I started as a volunteer, and eventually became employed with the lab – assisting in lab studies, and learning experimental protocols and data analysis techniques. This led to the writing and eventual funding of an OSCAR proposal.

The research I have conducted during my undergraduate career at Mason has been invaluable in my development as a student, and as a person. Exploring the unknown has not only furthered my critical thinking and problem solving skills, but taught me a lot about myself. It has shown me my strengths and weaknesses, and helped me develop a stronger work ethic. Aside from the academic and personal development, research experience at the undergraduate level will be essential in my ultimate goal of entering a PhD program. Early exposure into the world of research will make me more attractive to potential graduate schools, and prepare me for the expectations a PhD program entails.

For me, a normal week in the Neural Engineering lab consists of running experiments, sorting and processing data, and interpreting the results.  Ideally, a few times a week I will run several electrical stimulation experiments on the neuron cultures, process the data, and discuss with the grad student I work closely with what the best direction would be to pursue. Usually, that direction is collect more data, and increase the number of experiments we have run in order to make solid statistical claims, but occasionally we need to make appropriate adjustments to our protocol.

This week, I discovered how difficult it can be for the neuronal cultures to be maintained successfully. The lab recently received a new type of neuronal tissue, and followed a new protocol to grow them on a microelectrode array (MEA). Unfortunately, the neurons died, and there is not a clear reason to what caused it.