Sonali Arora | Assistant Editor of Social Sciences
Arushi Pandya is a junior at The University of Texas majoring in Plan II and Biology. Arushi works in the Schallert Lab for Neurobiology and is currently researching effects of ischemic stroke using mice and ultrasonic voice recordings. She also spent a summer at MD Anderson researching cell microenvironment and signaling pathways and its effect on non-Hodgkin’s mantle cell lymphoma.
As someone interested in medicine, Arushi initially got involved in research to see how the process of scientific development works. She began in high school where she spent the summer after her junior year working in a lab and doing work with nucleic aptamers.
“Funny enough, I really did not like my first experience and thought research wasn’t for me,” she says. “When I came to college a year and a half later, I decided to give research another try. I realized it wasn’t that I didn’t like research, but that I didn’t like the specific type of research I was doing. Molecular biology and chemical processes are very interesting but it operated on too small of a scale for me.”
That’s why, on her second try, she approached labs that were doing research focused more on behavior or macro-level analysis.
At the Schallert Lab for Neurobiology, Arushi’s research involves analyzing the effects of stroke using various methods. In the first experiment she worked on, she evaluated the efficacy of the RTL-1000 molecule as an immunotherapy for ischemic stroke in females. The female mice model was used because some cell death mechanisms vary between males and females after brain injury, and one goal of this experiment was to see if partial major histocompatibility complex class II constructs (pMHC) led to the same positive results in female mice as it did in male mice.
The first finding was that the drug reduced infarct volume, or physical brain damage. This was demonstrated through the use of TTC staining as a method of histology. The drug also improved behavioral outcomes post-stroke, which was evident through the use of a cylinder test comparing limb usage before and after the stroke. The third result was that the drug significantly improved post-stroke speech deficits. For this, she analyzed ultrasonic vocalization (USV) recordings, which showed that the RTL treatment improved call duration, which translates to quality of speech in humans. Because USVs in female mice have rarely been done, the second experiment she worked on focused on the use of USVs to further understand stroke in female mice.
Research has not only taught her how to approach problems in an analytical way and to appreciate patience, but also to approach everyday phenomena with a sense of wonder.
“There’s so much we don’t know and so much more that needs to be learned. I think one of the most exciting things about working in neurobiology is that so little is known about how the brain works. Sometimes you just need to recognize how cool it is that certain natural physical and biological processes work the way they do,” she says.
She feels these skills have definitely helped in her classes because she now questions the way things work, which not only helps her understand the material better, but also makes what she’s learning more interesting. In terms of the courses that have prepared her for research, she thinks that one of the most useful classes she has taken is biostatistics, as she has been able to apply a significant portion of the information she learned about statistical models and analysis to her work. Looking forward, she hopes these skills will continue to help her in the future. After college, she plans to pursue a career as an oncologist and believes that having done research in related fields will help her to become a better physician.
Her advice to other undergraduate students interested in getting involved in research projects is to simply not be afraid to go for it.
“My summer at MD Anderson turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and the way I got it was by just cold e-mailing about fifty different professors,” she says.
Out of those professors, forty-nine of them said no, but one of them got back to her saying that she had an opening in her lab; Arushi was able to spend the summer working with her.
“One of the biggest reasons I want to pursue a career in Oncology is because I saw my grandfather’s struggle with mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which comprises 2% of all cancers. By sheer coincidence or a stroke of fate, the research project I was assigned to involved working with that same cancer and the same drug my grandfather was on the trial for before he passed away. That really made my experience very meaningful and phenomenal.
So, don’t be afraid to initiate contact! The worst anyone can say is no. If research is what you want to do, don’t be afraid to just go for it.”
Featured photo from study.com