Laleh Boroujerdi-Rad

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

I currently conduct research in Dr. Ranjan Gupta's Peripheral Nerve Research Lab in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the College of Medicine. Our lab specializes in elucidating the pathophysiology of chronic nerve compression (CNC) injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. CNC injuries affect millions of people each year, so I was thrilled to work on research that might eventually lead to more effective treatments. In traumatic injuries, such as nerve crush or transection, Wallerian degeneration normally triggers a rapid recruitment of hematogenous macrophages into the degenerating nerve. These macrophages play a role in clearing axonal debris and myelin ovoids with the help of Schwann cells to create a pro-regenerative environment. My project involves the immunohistochemical examination of the time course of macrophage recruitment into the compressed sciatic nerve using our previously established rat CNC injury model. Establishing the temporal relationship between macrophage recruitment and Schwann cell activity will help us better understand the pathogenesis of compressive neuropathies.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I joined Dr. Gupta's research lab in the Winter quarter of my sophomore year. A friend of mine, who had conducted research in that lab prior to attending medical school, recommended that I join the lab. I was very interested in a) neurobiology, b) working with an in vivo model, and c) conducting research on a clinically-relevant topic, so Dr. Gupta's lab was perfect for me. I contacted Dr. Gupta and then interviewed for the position. Soon after, I joined the lab and began my active involvement.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Research has definitely enriched my education in more ways than I imagined were possible. I feel that my most important exposure to the science of medicine was in Dr. Gupta's lab. Working to define the pathogenesis of compressive neuropathies has been a demanding task, but it has enabled me to make a meaningful contribution to science. I have delighted in applying techniques I learned about in class and in books to such important work. The work, in turn, built the problem solving and hypothesizing skills that are critical to the scientific method and the practice of medicine.

Research has also brought me numerous honors. This past summer, I was awarded a $3000 Summer Undergraduate Research Program scholarship at UCI to conduct over 400 hours of research. Also, I have submitted an abstract to the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) on my independent project, which has been accepted. I presented my research findings at the Orthopaedic Research Society conference in Washington D.C. this February, and I will be presenting my research at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium in May as well. The significant findings of my research are currently being prepared for publication in a major neurology journal.

My involvement in research has also allowed me to develop an appreciation for it that I would like to share with others. This year, I was selected to join the Editorial Board for the UCI Undergraduate Research Journal, an acclaimed multi-disciplinary journal, produced yearly, that displays the high-caliber research conducted here. My participation on the Editorial Board has served as an opportunity for me to lead and represent the creativity ingenuity of all undergraduates throughout every field.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

A personally memorable moment for me was when, after a year or so of manually quantifying macrophages from nerve sections at various time points in their entirety, I analyzed my data and produced graphs with exactly what I wanted to see. The countless hours of work came together nicely in the end. After I found that my data supported my hypotheses, I was excited to submit an ORS abstract and my manuscript for review, titled "The Temporal Pattern of Macrophage Recruitment after Chronic Nerve Compression Injury." Also, this February, I had the opportunity to present my poster in Washington D.C. at the ORS conference. It was exciting to see how interested scientists, orthopaedic surgeons, and researchers were in my research study. Being able to make my personal contribution by adding a piece to the puzzle of a clinically-relevant problem, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, is very exciting and rewarding.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

I plan to attend medical school in the near future to become a physician. My lab includes fellow pre-med undergraduates, medical students, residents, and my faculty mentor (who is an orthopaedic surgeon). Being surrounded by so many hard-working people I look up to has not only exposed me to the medical field at each step of the profession, but it has inspired me to pursue research in the future. My involvement in undergraduate research has interested me in conducting clinical research as I practice medicine in the future. As a physician, I feel that I will only be able to diagnose and treat patients; however, I must turn to research to cure them.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

I would definitely advise students to pursue a field that interests them, and to know what they are getting themselves into. Research requires students to balance their coursework with work in the lab and maybe even extracurricular activities. Find out how many hours of work are expected, and whether or not you are willing to make the sacrifice, so you won't be surprised or disappointed. Another important aspect is to find out how much student-faculty mentor interaction you will have. I feel lucky that my faculty mentor is constantly in the lab and that I work directly under him. The work that I do in my lab is also my specific project. I think independent research projects allow researchers to develop skills and make meaningful contributions to their field. Lastly, UROP is a great resource; make sure to take advantage of the opportunities they provide in the form of scholarships or leadership positions.

Past Researchers of the Month
Dec. '05 Erin Curtis
Nov. '05 Elizabeth Black
Oct. '05 Chao Li
Sept. '05 Neil Saigal
Aug. '05 Evan Brown
Jul. '05 Dirk Groeneveld
Jun. '05 Alpay Dermenci
May '05 Eva Maria Rodriguez
Apr. '05 Christine Nyholm
Mar. '05 Erin Conn
Feb. '05 Nhu Vuong
Jan. '05 Jennifer Channual
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