I’ve already written many blogs answering the question “why Hopkins?” but there is one reason why I’m happier now than I’ve ever been before. While I love our brick and white campus, and the crab in Baltimore simply can’t be beat, there is something else that makes Hopkins so special.
My grandmother died before I was born. Although I never got to meet her, I know she must have been an amazing woman because she created the loving family I am so lucky to be a part of. My grandmother suffered from primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune, inflammatory neurological disease of the central nervous system. Although there are some drugs to mediate relapsing MS, there is no cure for progressive MS.
I grew up knowing that my grandmother had died of MS, but I had no idea what that actually meant. In high school biology I learned about the myelin sheath that covers axons in order to speed up signals in the CNS. Last year I took the course Introduction to Neuroscience with Professor Hendry and I fell in love with the entire field and promptly declared as a Neuroscience major. In Intro to Neuroscience, I learned about oligodendrocytes and their role in the autoimmune disease.
It was frustrating hearing in class “we still do not know the precise cause of MS, or of any cure.” MS affects 2.3 million people worldwide, and that is just an estimate.
So at the end of last year, I went to Professor Hendry for help finding a research position. All neuroscience majors are required to have at least 6 credits of research to graduate. I told him about my interest in MS, and he recommended me to Dr. Calabresi, the director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center.
Over the summer I met all of the members of the small lab and when the fall semester started, I learned immunohistochemistry techniques, profusion and dissection, and recently learned how to crytostat (slice mouse brains into 20 micron sections). I saw oligodendrocytes under a fluorescence microscope for the first time and was amazed. They shine bright green against the blue of all the nuclei, and their processes extend in delicate swirling patterns.
I came in with no research experience and only a superficial knowledge of how multiple sclerosis affects the nervous system. Emily, a PhD in the lab, coached me through profusions, taught me how to keep a lab notebook, and even showed me what it means to be a good scientist. She helped me realize what “the story” looks like in research and how to back it up with evidence.
I came back for intersession this winter mainly because I couldn’t wait to be back in the lab. I started my own experiment and I cannot wait to see the data. I am looking at oligodendrocytes and their interactions with axons. This study is also going to help us figure out how long axons can survive without myelin. This is important for progressive MS because the results will help us determine if re-myelinating drugs will be worthwhile. For the first time I feel like I know what I want to do with my life, and how I can positively contribute to society.
This year I am taking Nervous Systems, the major pre-requisite course for all Neuroscience majors. We learned how to calculate the speed of an action potential based on the Tau and the driving potential for an ion, but what I have learned in lab has been invaluable. It’s amazing to me that I get to work at the Johns Hopkins Hospital at the center for Multiple Sclerosis. I am (in a very small way) helping find a way to help those with MS. This is why Hopkins is truly an amazing place.