Member of MSTP (MD/PhD) program
UNDERGRAD INSTITUTION AND MAJOR:
Hamline, B.S., Biochemistry, 2010
Member Phi Beta Kappa (2010)
Hamline Presidential Fellowship: Hamline University (2008-2010) 3M/Mitsch Scholarship: Hamline University (2009)
Norma A Johnson Scholarship for Chemistry: Hamline University (2009) Carter Scholarship for Chemistry: Hamline University (2009)
Jerome Onheiber Memorial scholarship: UWMC (2008)
Physics Departmental Distinction Award: UWMC (2008)
Spanish Departmental Distinction Award: UWMC (2008)
Samuel Weiner Award for Academic Excellence: UWMC (2008)
Shaun Winter Memorial Scholarship: UWMC (2008)
Aspirus Health Foundation Scholarship: UWMC (2007)
Koby Crabtree Biological Sciences Award: UWMC (2007)
UNDERGRADUATE OR POST-BAC RESEARCH:
In 2010, during my senior year at Hamline University, I volunteered in the lab of Dr. Martin Wessendorf (Dept. of Neuroscience, U of M). After graduation I was hired as a junior scientist by Dr. Wessendorf and his colleagues Dr. George Wilcox (Dept. of Neuroscience) and Dr. Carolyn Fairbanks (Dept. of Pharmaceutics). For nine months I worked 30 hours a week in their labs and 20-30 hours a week for Dr. James Miner (Dept. of Emergency Medicine, HCMC). At HCMC I supervised a group of 75 volunteer undergraduate research associates and collected data for clinical research studies conducted in the emergency department. In spring of 2011 I started working in the lab full-time until I was accepted to the MD/PhD program in 2013. Between 2010 and 2013 I worked on several projects in basic, translational, and clinical research.
In the Wessendorf lab I investigated the neuronal cell loss in the rostral ventromedial medulla following spinal nerve ligation, a model of peripheral nerve injury. I was personally involved in many aspects of this study including: behavioral testing, animal surgeries, trans-cardiac perfusions, immunohistochemistry, fluorescence microscopy as well as data analysis. The lab continued this line of inquiry by investigating if similar neuronal loss could be seen in other models of peripheral nerve injury including chronic constriction injury and spared nerve injury.
In collaboration with Dr. Lucy Vulchanova (Dept. of Neuroscience), under the supervision of Dr. Fairbanks I worked on a project examining the spinal effects of the VGF derived peptide TLQP-21 and uncovering its role in spinal mechanisms of chronic pain. My involvement in this project focused on performing animal surgeries and behavioral testing. It was found that TLQP-21 had pro-nociceptive effects at the spinal level and that blocking this peptide could decrease hyperalgesia caused by inflammation and neuropathic injury.
Under the supervision of Dr. Wilcox, and in collaboration with Dr. Maria Hordinsky (Dept. of Dermatology) I conducted research on dermal neuropeptide expression in skin biopsies from patients with frontal fibrosing alopecia and lichen planopilaris. Using immunohistochemistry and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), my role in this study was to create and optimize a protocol for the quantification of Substance P and calcitonin gene related peptide levels in scalp biopsies.
WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN RESEARCH?
My interest in research sprung from my personal battle with chronic pain. We know so much and yet so little about how the nervous system processes and responds to nociceptive signals, and this is reflected in the limited and inadequate tool box of therapeutic options available to treat chronic pain. Being an MD/PhD student gives me a unique perspective on pre-clinical and translational research. Having been involved in both clinical and basic research, I am aware of the translational gap that exists between science and medicine. I am passionate about pursing collaborations that will help to fill that gap and facilitate the pursuit of goals common to basic pain researchers and pain clinicians alike: novel therapies to treat chronic pain.
GRADUATE LEVEL PUBLICATIONS
- Leong ML, Speltz R, Wessendorf M. Effects of chronic constriction injury and spared nerve injury, two models of neuropathic pain, on the numbers of neurons and glia in the rostral ventromedial medulla. Neurosci Lett. 2016 Feb 6;617:82-87.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE MN?
I chose Minnesota because of the amazing group of basic pain research faculty here and because of the collaborative nature of the neuroscience program as a whole.
STUDENT MENTOR AND THE BEST ADVICE THEY GAVE.
As my student mentor, Jennifer Zick has given me a lot of good advice and has been there for me as a colleague, friend, and mentor.