Over this summer, I worked in the Kacy Cullen Laboratory for Neuroregeneration. Whether through trauma or through surgical complications, nerve injuries are surprisingly common. Due to this common injury, one of the main goals of the Cullen Laboratory is to create solutions for this issue. This lab has already developed a novel tissue engineered nerve graft (TENG) that can guide, help, and stimulate regeneration in damaged nerves. TENGs are unique to other guidance tube grafts in that the tubes are filled with stretch grown axons. These axons are able to provide a pro-regenerative anisotropic environment for the regenerative front to grow along.
Although the main goal of neuroregeneration is to promote the host nerve to regrow as far and as fast as possible, one of the main issues that scientists face, is keeping the regenerating nerve alive. When a nerve is cut, the bottom portion dies off immediately, leaving the top half in a time-crunch to get all the way to its target muscle before also dying off. Therefore, it is particularly important to design a nerve graft repair that maintains nerve survival as best as possible.
During the summer of 2016, CURF funded me to help create a new metric of analyzing cell survival at the Cullen Lab. Since then, many projects have adopted the technique I brought to the lab, and now this summer, it was my chance to implement the technique to assess the efficacy of the TENGs we developed. I designed a 25-animal rat study to analyze how effective TENGs were at maintaining cell survival of a re-growing nerve. Although I was only able to complete a smaller portion of the enrollment over the summer, I was able to come to some interesting findings – demonstrating initial data that TENGs provide a more sustentative environment than a nerve guidance tube filled only with collagen.
Through this experience I was able to really get a more comprehensive sense of what it is like to design a complete and thorough project to answer all potential counter-arguments to a study’s proposed hypothesis. Additionally, I was able to learn how to create reasonable and appropriate timelines for animal studies. Overall, I feel like I learned a lot about the neuroregeneration field and what it takes to plan, execute, and generate conclusions for a study.