Laleh Boroujerdi-Rad

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

I am in my second year in the lab of Dr. Charles Ribak, Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology at the College of Medicine. Our primary research involves the use of immunocytochemical preparation to observe changes that occur after epilepsy in adult vertebrates. Together, with Dr. Ribak, our post-doctorate, Lee Shapiro, and laboratory technician, Zhiyin Shan; our lab is committed to understanding the mechanisms by which newly generated granule cells integrate into the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus of adult rats.

Electroconvulsive stimulated, ischemic or drug models have been previously studied using generic, novel techniques to describe epileptogenesis and morphological changes that occur in these rats as being consistent with those changes observed in temporal lobe epilepsy. Our current research involves studying and analyzing morphological and anatomical data from epileptic rats, prepared using the drug Pilocarpine hydrochloride. By labeling proteins specific for microtubules and other immature cytoskeletal features that are only expressed during the early stages of development, we are able to localize dendritic, axonal, as well as, cytoskeletal structures that exist in dentate gyrus of the hippocampus in adult rats. Observing changes that occur both on the light and ultra structural level, we are able hypothesize with some reasonable degree of accuracy, how this dynamic location is affected by a common, yet severely debilitating disease. Recent collaborations with doctors at Loma Linda University, involving the use of pin point irradiation treatment are still in the early stages of development. However, the initial results are promising and we are working diligently to perform the same examinations, which have provided impressive results in previous preparations.

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

My interest in degenerative disease of the brain was enough to spark an interest to investigate professors at the College of Medicine. My search started with a search on the UCI homepage and soon I was reading abstracts and papers at and PubMed. I became familiar with the terms and realized I could handle a similar task if given the opportunity. Knowing what I wanted out of my research experience, I wrote directly to Dr. Ribak, and with a little luck, was offered an interview. After visiting the lab and seeing the exciting publications that were being released from Dr. Ribak’s laboratory, I made every effort to schedule a few hours during my first quarter. A few hours grew and my time in the lab became an integral part of my core curriculum.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

As a biological science major, you hear in lecture about the difficult procedures required to answer the questions of science. It can be frustrating to try to piece together what 10 weeks of notes mean, but as I have learned, such is science. Not only have I been able to apply the resources and knowledge of general biology in the laboratory, but also I’ve grasped the reasoning behind why one must have a strong foundation in biochemistry, molecular, and cellular biology. It’s often said that bio majors just regurgitate information and that it’s all memorization. While parts of an exam may make it seem that way, having a plethora of tools to feel out a question, and then be able to truly understand what is growing in the dish, or what type of changes are occurring requires that education. Even what seems to be a trivial question such as, why is the tissue blue, could not be grasped unless you’ve had the appropriate experiences. It is essential before you apply anything. In other words, the education does not become meaningful until you get into a lab and really break down something that you have a profound interest in.

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

Our lab is a close knit group of individuals with different backgrounds and certainly different experiences. I’ve never felt that I was really inferior to my colleagues in the lab, and that when it came down to it, we were all just investigators and scientists putting our theories together to answer the questions that could lead to meaningful results. I never knew that critically analyzing a scientific journal article could become so entertaining with a bagel and some cream cheese. To say that working in the lab is a job is a mischaracterization, it’s more along the lines memorable life experience. I truly enjoy and often wish there was more time in the day to sit down and go over the days collection of data. I’ve had the opportunity to work with an extremely talented group led by a professor whose aspirations for success are at the core of each experiment.

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

When you’re doing something that you’ve found a niche in which has also had its due success, it’s hard to turn away and say you’ll never do it again. I’ve learned through my experiences at UCI as well as my approach in the laboratory, that I could be well suited for law school. I believe that my experience gained in neurobiology and anatomy gives me a particularly unique understanding where I could combine science and law into a very meaningful career. Ultimately I’d like to be professor and a practicing attorney. For now, I’m just hoping to take it one step at a time. Working in the Ribak lab has shown me that when you’re researching, when you’re studying the results, and when you’re posing the questions, sometimes you really have to step back and get the big picture of what it is you’re doing.

For me, being involved in research has brought the same thing to my life. It’s shown me how to step back and answer the questions, “why am I doing this and for whom will it benefit?” When you are researching and studying, you must take precautions, but at the same time, critically assess each situation. Research is a lot like the journey through college. Sometimes you’ve got to trust your instincts instead of what appears on the paper. If you don’t, you go back to your notes, and start again with a little more knowledge about what fits and what should be discarded.

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

Do not just look for a professor that has the most publications or the biggest name. Take your time to find one that will let you really understand what the research is about. I was extremely fortunate and lucky to have arranged a meeting with Dr. Ribak. Some professors are looking for specific requirement and others want just a pair of eyes or hands. Look for the professor who wants its all. I feel that the reason my experience has been so positive is because I was a responsibility and important part in the lab. I knew that if I didn’t complete my part, then we wouldn’t have a complete study.

Take the initiative! If you are really interested in working in a lab or completing a particular creative project, you have to let the professor know. Professors and doctors are busy and have many things that take up their time, so it’s important for you to make sure they know who you are in person. A personal e-mail can do a lot, and a follow up is the key.

Past Researchers of the Month
Dec. '04 Martin Vega
Nov. '04 Peter Kuo
Oct. '04 Michelle Plyer
Sep. '04 Camille Campion
Aug. '04 Ahmed Ibrahim
Jul. '04 Gregoria Barazandeh
Jun. '04 Matthew Korn
May '04 Jolene Minakary
Apr. '04 Zhanna Kovaleva
Mar. '04 Dorothy Chang
Feb. '04 Elizabeth Yanni
Jan. '04 Brad Cohn
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