Biological Sciences & Interdisciplinary Studies
“Brain Mechanisms of Stress-Induced Analgesia”
For several decades, researchers have been studying the phenomenon in which exposure to intense stress suppresses the perception of pain, known as stress-induced analgesia (SIA). From an evolutionary perspective, SIA is part of the adaptive fight-or-flight response mediated by the sympathetic nervous system that enhances an individual’s ability to survive a crisis situation; pain suppression is a critical component of this response as it enables individuals to escape a threat even if they have sustained an injury. Studies have also found involvement of the endogenous opioid system in SIA. This study focuses on identifying specific brain areas and the neural mechanisms involved in SIA. In this study, painful heat stimuli will be applied to the subjects while they perform a computerized task in the MRI scanner and functional brain imaging data is collected. Subjects will participate in two sessions on separate days: (1) the control session in which painful heat stimuli are applied while subjects perform a non-stressful task and (2) the stress session in which painful heat stimuli are applied while subjects perform a stressful math task. Comparison of pain ratings and functional neuroimaging data between the two sessions will allow us to measure the magnitude of and brain networks involved in SIA, respectively.
Who is your mentor for your research project? How did you arrange to work with this person?
Dr. Raimi L. Quiton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
I discovered an opening in Dr. Quiton’s Lab through my INDS advisor, Ms. Carrie Sauter. During the summer of my freshmen year, I joined Dr. Quiton’s Pain Lab on campus as a Research Assistant. Initially, I accomplished data entry and then moved on to learning how to conduct literature reviews, conduct experimental sessions for our main study, leading up to developing my independent project.
How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
When I was taking the Sensation & Perception class with Dr. Quiton, we briefly covered a concept known as Stress-Induced Analgesia (SIA), which is basically a pain-suppression mechanism. Since I wanted to do something related to pain physiology, I decided to explore SIA through literature reviews. I found that there wasn’t as much information and literature available for this relatively newly-discovered phenomenon. At that moment, I decided that I will further study this process to learn about the mechanisms involved in both stress and pain, two of the most commonly experienced phenomena.
Is this your first independent research project?
Although I had conducted an independent research project in high school, this would be considered my first independent research project in my undergraduate career.
Do you get course credit for this work?
Yes, I am enrolled in PRAC 098C for transcript notation for this work over the summer and BIOL 499 for guided research paper writing in Fall 2016.
How much time do you put into it?
I had started developing this project from Fall 2015, under the guidance of Dr. Quiton. As I progressed to submitting my IRB protocol for approval, I applied for the URA in Spring 2016. On average, I put in about 10-15 hours / week, which is likely to increase as the Fall semester starts and I begin collecting data.
How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
Initially, I heard about the URA program through fellow RAs in the lab and at URCAD when I presented in Spring 2015. Additionally, one of the RAs in my lab applied in the previous year and was fully awarded for her project. Hence, I was planning on applying since a very long time.
What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?
Before applying for the URA, I had two and half years of experience in Dr. Quiton’s Pain Lab. I also took Physiological Psychology, Sensation and Perception, Statistics with Biological Applications, and Neuroanatomy to help me prepare for this project.
Was the application difficult to do?
Since I had majority of the information available from my IRB protocol, I did not have much trouble filling out the application. However, the difficult part was trying to condense a plethora of information down to two pages.
How much did your mentor help you with the application?
My mentor, Dr. Quiton, was extremely helpful in proofreading my application and giving me appropriate feedback on how to write an effective proposal that is likely going to be accepted.
What has been the hardest part about your research?
The hardest portion of my project so far has been planning out the whole research study, laying out the experimental design and addressing flaws in the design to make it more effective.
What was the most unexpected thing?
Nothing was unexpected through the application process since all questions and expectations were clearly addressed through the URA workshops.
How does your research relate to your work in other classes?
My research is very relevant for my INDS, BIO and PSYC courses, where I get to apply what I have researched and put it in the interdisciplinary perspective. Since stress and pain are two very different processes, it is very helpful to envision how to they can complement and explain each other through biological and psychological concepts.
What else are you involved in on campus?
Besides being involved in research on-campus, I am a Teaching Assistant for the Chemistry Discovery Center and a Tutor for the Learning Resources Center.
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
If you are interested or even unsure about pursuing research, it is definitely worth a try. I would try to find a specific field or area of research you’re interested in and then search for on-campus or off-campus opportunities through UMBC’s undergraduate research website. I would also recommend getting started in the searching process early on so that you have enough time to get involved in a lab, learn and discover if research is your passion.
What are your career goals?
My goal is to pursue a career as a physician, possibly specializing in the field of Neurology.