Working in Dr. Kimberley Phillips’ lab this semester, Lindsey Ulin is researching the effects of exercise on demyelinating disease, such as Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. Her research is a continuation of a summer’s work in Phillip’s lab.
The nervous system relies primarily on the function of neurons in the brain. Humans typically have between 100 billion to 1 trillion that are responsible for communication in our nervous system. Normally, neurons are covered in a myelin sheath, that protects the neuron and facilitates the sending of messages throughout the nervous system.
Demyelinating diseases destroy the myelin and the propagation of signals in the nervous system is slowed or stopped. MS presents a variety of physical as well as cognitive deficits, including issues with motor coordination and balance as well as memory loss and trouble focusing.
|Ulin's senior research focuses on demyelinating disease such as MS.|
Previous research has shown that exercise is beneficial for overall brain function, so Phillips’ lab has chosen to examine its effects on demyelinating disease. In order to do this, they must model the disease in their subjects using the Cuprizone Model, which mimics the effects of demyelinating disease through the mouse’s diet.
This summer, Ulin and other students completed a behavioural analysis of the mice, testing their brain function with physical tasks. Now, they’ll begin analyzing the brain tissue of the mice by staining them and examining them under the microscope. They hypothesize that the mice experiencing the effects of demyelinating disease will show less demyelination if they have been exercising.
|Ulin uses advanced lab equipment to thinly slice tissues for analysis.|
The next analysis will be a Western Blot, used to quantify the amount of myelin basic protein (MBP), as well as Proteolipid Protein (PLP) in the brain tissue. These are the main structural proteins in myelin, so the lab expects that mice who are exercising should have higher amounts of these proteins.
Ulin’s research is a pilot study, meaning that her work requires the creation of a new experimental protocol. This process is not without its obstacles:
“I’d done research before, but never from the very beginning of the process. It’s been a hard task to develop procedure and technique from scratch, seeing what worked and what didn’t and having to go back to the drawing board. But it’s a good lesson, because research isn’t always straightforward. The techniques that we develop here will continue to be used in this research after I graduate, which is an exciting and humbling thought.”
|Ultimately, Ulin hopes to become a physician specializing in neuroscience and neurosurgery.|
Ulin is grateful to have been awarded the Mach fellowship for senior student research, which will allow her to attend the Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago in October, and has funded the lab’s acquisition of advanced laboratory equipment.
In addition to her research, Ulin serves as a captain of Trinity University’s Women’s varsity swim team. She intends to begin medical school in the Fall of 2016. Ulin is a native of Leander, TX.