After seeing Dr. Schwartz at work in the clinic and operating room, I was curious to learn more about his lab. Last week, I visited Dr. Schwartz’s lab and learned a bit about the research; however, only one of the members, Dr. Hongtao Ma, was there. This week, I got to hear from Dr. Mingrui Zhao as well, who coincidentally had been up visiting Ithaca the previous week. Despite being a research lab, the Schwartz Lab felt much less like the home-away-from-home I was anticipating. Instead of having hoods and cabinets filled with chemicals, optical and electrical equipment crammed the room. Soldering irons sat out on benches next to assorted pliers, wires, and glass probes. It was not just the equipment and research that was different; the entire lab personnel structure was different from any lab I’d worked in previously. As far as I could tell, the lab consisted of Dr. Schwartz (who has an MD, but not a PhD), two assistant professors, Dr. Ma and Dr. Zhao, (who hold PhDs, but not MDs) and an assortment of summer students (such as myself). It was interesting that despite being assistant professors, Dr. Ma and Dr. Zhao still spent a lot of time in the lab. To me, one of the least appealing aspects of becoming a professor would be spending all day writing grants and going to meetings, instead of actually performing lab research, so it is good to know that post-doc-like professorships exist. That being said, I do not think I would enjoy working in a hospital if I were not a doctor. It is almost a bit like a caste system, with glamorous, life-saving MDs on top and mousy academics tucked away in their labs underneath. Having no MD (nor burning desire to get one) makes me feel quite the outsider.
Dr. Ma and Dr. Zhao study epilepsy by performing craniotomies on mice and recording the hemodynamic, metabolic, and electrical changes that occur immediately before, during, and after focal seizures. By identifying the changes that occur before a seizure takes place, they hope to be able to predict, and eventually prevent, seizures. Because there are only 5-ish weeks left in the program, and I have no knowledge or training in this field, it will be challenging to set up a complete research project. However, I’m always up for a challenge, and I look forward to further shadowing Dr. Ma and Dr. Zhao.
My clinic experience was similar to last week. There were many success stories of patients who initially had tumors who were now healthy and tumor free, as well as sad stories of tumors returned and surgical difficulties. One case that stood out involved a young woman who had been involved in a car accident. She had severely damaged one part of her skull, so a custom skull prosthetic had been used to repair that site. The surgery had gone well, but the skin over the prosthetic had failed to heal; instead, it became necrotic, forming an eschar and losing all the hair on it. This was extremely unusual and Dr. Schwartz postulated that it was possible that the skin had been stitched too tightly over the prosthetic, thus preventing sufficient blood flow to the tissue.
One of my highlights this week was going to MRI training. Though I had seen MRIs in pictures and pictures from MRIs, I had never operated one. Thanks to fellow summer student, Amanda, prior summer student, Mitch, and phantom-extraordinaire, MR Plastic, I was able to perform an MRI. Directly seeing the effects of varying parameters, such as repetition and echo times, helped me to better understand how MRIs work. Now, I just have to work on learning to better interpret the images produced!