Center for Injury Research and Prevention

After Injury, Brain Injury Science Is His Calling

March 7, 2019

A note from CIRP@CHOP Training Manager Carol Murray, MSS, MLSP: Today we are pleased to welcome a guest blog post from Gabriel Nah, a senior at Lincoln University majoring in Biology and Neuroscience who participated in the Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at CIRP during the summer of 2018 and was invited by the National Science Foundation to present on his work at its REU Symposium in October 2018.

Gabriel Nah
Gabriel Nah with his poster at the National Science Foundation's REU Symposium

Neuroscience was not always a choice of mine. It wasn’t until the summer going into my sophomore year of college that neuroscience and I became inseparable. On July 11, 2016, I was involved in a car accident in which I experienced a concussion, a form of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Soon after, I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). Unfortunately there are currently no effective treatments for TBI, so doctors treat the symptoms but not the actual problem. Research is necessary to better understand what occurs in the brain when TBI occurs. Because of my injury, I aspire to be a neuroscientist in order to study TBI to help those who suffer from cognitive deficits like me.

During the summer of 2018, I had the pleasure of working at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) as a part of the Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program under the mentorship of Akiva S. Cohen, PhD, a senior fellow at CIRP and principal investigator at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. While assisting Dr. Cohen in his traumatic brain injury (TBI) lab, I learned new techniques and how to use new machinery.

I worked on a couple of projects and performed various laboratory tasks, including creating polymerase chain reactions (PCRs), making artificial cerebrospinal fluid, using a vibratome to cut mouse brain slices, and mounting and viewing brain slices through a confocal microscope.

My main project, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, involved comparing parvalbumin (PV) cell counts in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus of TBI mice and non-injured mice. PV is a type of inhibitory neuron in the brain. We found that there were less PV neurons in the TBI mice compared to the non-injured mice. It’s possible that the lack of PV neurons after a TBI could be the reason why people experience cognitive impairments like memory and learning problems; but, without more research it is very hard to say.

The techniques and skills I acquired while working at CIRP really helped me decide on my next step after completing my undergraduate degrees in Biology and Neuroscience. I am currently waiting to hear back from Neuroscience PhD programs, and I hope to one day be a research scientist like Dr. Cohen.

My time spent at CIRP, however was not just work. All of the REU interns enjoyed hanging out with each other, and we took numerous trips around Philadelphia and beyond. Working with CIRP’s multidisciplinary team was amazing, and it truly made last summer unforgettable. I am excited to see where TBI research takes me next.

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