This past summer I joined the Mourkioti Cardiac and Skeletal Muscle Lab in the McKay Orthopedic Research Department at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, thanks to the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship (PURM) program. I assisted my principal investigator, Dr. Foteini Mourkioti, with various projects, but my main endeavor focused on analyzing the efficacy of using tissue engineered nerve grafts (TENGs) to augment the functional neuromuscular regeneration of denervated muscle. I was interested in this project because of the focus on reinnervation. As a neuroscience (BBB) major at Penn, I am fascinated with the intricacies of the nervous system and how it is crucial to support the development and functions of the human body.
The goal of my project was to protect denervated muscle from atrophy by using TENGs to support neuromuscular regeneration. Using a rat animal model, a segmental nerve graft was taken from one of the legs of each experimental rat. The injury was then repaired with a TENG. After allowing time for the TENG to promote regeneration, the muscle from both the denervated and non-denervated leg of each rat was isolated, analyzed, and compared to determine if the treatment showed any statistically significant regenerative effect.
One of the most useful skills I learned and developed through this research was my ability to problem solve and persevere when things did not go according to plan. In a research environment, failure is inevitable and often a clear step forward is not known. This atmosphere required me to constantly evaluate the protocols used to answer my hypothesis. This type of thought process not only promoted novel thoughts, but also helped me develop a deeper understanding of the research and a stronger command of the concepts. I am going to apply these strategies to the way I approach future materials to help me master complex topics.
I would definitely and most highly recommend the PURM program to all students at Penn. Participating in this PURM research was a fantastic introduction to university-based research that will serve as a strong foundation for my future research endeavors. I aspire to attend medical school to become a clinical physician, and I also plan to use my medical degree to advance biomedical and biotechnical research. In addition, this PURM research project introduced me to Dr. Mourkioti, who has become an incredible mentor and friend. In the short span of the summer, I have gained such great knowledge and have so thoroughly enjoyed my PURM experience that I plan to continue working with Dr. Mourkioti on this and other research throughout my next three years at Penn.