Students conduct migraine research in Chicago

Since 2007, a number of Cornell students have engaged in neuroscience research side-by-side with professionals at the University of Chicago. The opportunity was established Rich Kraig ’71, director of the Cerebrovascular Disease and Aging Laboratories at the university.

Research Lab
Dr. Rich Kraig ’71 (center) in his University of Chicago neuroscience lab with Cornell Biology Professor Barbara Christie-Pope (right) and Wade Swenson '07 (left)

Kraig’s research focuses on natural mechanisms that may protect the brain from the effects of strokes, migraines, and other neurological disorders. Students make meaningful contributions, as evidenced by a recent article in the Journal of Neuroscience that included Wade Swenson ’07 as co-author.

Vicki Levasseur worked in Kraig’s lab for 10 weeks during the summer of 2009 as part of the National Institutes of Health Program in Neuroscience and Neuroengineering. She investigated spreading depression (SD), a possible cause of episodic migraines evolving into chronic migraines, by studying the response of rat brain tissue slices to electrical signals designed to emulate the physiological effects of SD.

Vicki Levasseur’s Research Reflections

What was it like working in Dr. Kraig’s lab?
It was exciting to be working amongst very skilled scientists in a fast-paced environment. I was able to work closely with Dr. Kraig, learning techniques that I had no previous exposure to. By the end of the summer I had learned to operate electrophysiology equipment and obtain significant results. I also mastered an immunohistochemistry protocol and learned several new ways to analyze data. I was able to ask questions, not only about research, but also about Dr. Kraig’s experiences as an M.D., PhD. I now have a lot of insight into possible career paths, which will help me make more informed decisions in the future.

What was best about the experience?
Part of the NIH program included morning lectures three times each week, where I was introduced to many different research methods. Every scientist had a unique story and their own ideas about how to make career choices.

Another highlight was attending a three-day conference on tools for epilepsy research. Hearing presenters from all around the U.S., Italy, and Germany provided me with a perspective about how information is exchanged within a community of scientists. I was amazed at the plethora of approaches there are to studying a single brain disease. All of the speakers were extremely knowledgeable and had very unique backgrounds. It was encouraging to see their passion for research as well as their motivation to help one another improve his or her research.

Any insights that may affect your future plans?
After presenting the results of my research project to the other students in the program and after hearing what they had been working on all summer, I realized the importance of clear communication in the exchange of important information. For my presentation, Dr. Kraig encouraged me to emphasize that approximately 28 million people in the U.S. are affected by migraine, and that it frequently progresses from episodic to chronic migraine. He helped me realize that if the relevance of my research is communicated well, more research can be done to explore the mechanisms behind the progression of migraine, which can be used to improve treatments in a clinical setting.

What are your plans after Cornell?
Like Dr. Kraig, I would like to use research to develop better treatment plans for patients and work with others to gain support. My goal is to become a medical doctor and research scientist, specializing in neurology or psychiatry. I hope to find an opportunity to conduct research related to the neurological diseases I encounter in a clinical setting.