Having the opportunity to be a research assistant in Dr. Jong-Hyun Son’s lab was such an impactful and educational experience. My research is focused on determining the long-term effects of hypoxia induced neurotoxicity on the dopaminergic neurons and swimming behavior of juvenile and adult zebrafish. Furthermore, the significance of this research is that these physiological paradigms, such as lack of oxygen to the brain, can be associated with the development of neurogenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders in human species. By participating in experimental analysis, scientific knowledge is increased, medical advances are made, and better assessment technology is invented. It is rewarding to know that this research is helping to further understand the precursors to and effects of disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Autism.
The most rewarding part of this internship was being able to carry out a research experiment from start to finish and fully understanding the mechanisms behind it. The first stage of my internship allowed me to understand the responsibility and importance of maintaining the zebrafish colony. This task included following a feeding schedule, balancing water pH, and cleaning the tanks and filters. I learned to never underestimate the simplistic activities and responsibilities of the research process. The second stage of my internship was completing the behavioral trials, which consisted of placing each zebrafish in a swimming arena for a 20-minute duration, 10 minutes in a light environment and 10 minutes in a dark environment. The velocity, total distance traveled, and the amount of time spent moving and not moving were measured using a motion-detection camera. The third stage of my internship was to analyze the data on the cellular and molecular level by performing CLARITY and immunohistochemistry. This staining protocol allows for the dopaminergic neurons to be visible under fluorescent light, which helps us to compare the brain development and neuronal spatial distribution of the two different treatment groups, normoxia and hypoxia. Moreover, the most challenging part of my internship was the unpredictability that comes with performing research. There are times the experiment did not go the way I expected, so I then had to rerun the trials or statistics to find the inconsistency or error. Research is a humbling experience because it requires patience and determination to reevaluate the procedure and make the proper modifications. Each time, I learn something new, and it helps me to process the information from a different lens.
Having the opportunity to connect this research to my role as a future physician has truly enhanced my perspective on how to carry out the scientific method when diagnosing and treating a patient. This internship has not only increased my critical thinking, communication skills, and lab techniques, but it has also given me the confidence, leadership, and endurance needed to be successful in medical school. As a physician and diagnostician, I will be educating other medical professionals and patients, performing research, and taking part in medical breakthroughs and advancements. My passion is to change the lives of others by finding ways to improve their course of treatment and prevent other diseases from developing. This opportunity has brought me one step closer to accomplishing my goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. At this moment, I am gaining more knowledge about the nervous system through research, but one day I will be using these techniques and understanding to operate on the brain of an individual.
Olivia Manarchuck, Neuroscience ’24