Hello! My name is Avani and I’m a rising junior at Pitt with majors in biology and sociology and a minor in chemistry. I’m participating in the Brackenridge Fellowship from my home in central Jersey and am thrilled to submerge myself in an interdisciplinary atmosphere this summer. One unique fact about me is that I hold a bachelor’s degree in a classical Indian dance form through a university based in India! The 13 years it took to earn this degree has instilled in me a love for dance and the joy it brings, and led me to join Dhirana – a Pitt organization focused on raising money for the Birmingham Free Clinic of Pittsburgh through dance – in which I serve as Secretary for this upcoming academic year.
My project this summer is centered around a brain recovery method known as environmental enrichment that can be implemented post-hypoxia, a condition characterized by a lack of oxygen in the brain. One condition in which hypoxia is prevalent is cardiac arrest. During cardiac arrest, blood flow to the brain is extremely restricted, depriving the brain of oxygen for an extended period of time and resulting in significant cell death. Due to this damage, neurorehabilitation (rehabilitation of the brain after injury) is imperative. Environmental enrichment is a non-invasive neurorehabilitation strategy characterized by ample space to exercise, explore, and interact with textured objects. Objects are rearranged daily, and new objects are introduced to provide novel stimulation for the subject. Think of these objects as toys that stimulate the brain, something like a Rubix Cube. This enrichment method has been proven successful in streamlining neurorehabilitation if begun immediately after arrest, but these conditions cannot be mimicked in clinical settings due to the likely complex state of the patient. Some patients, for instance, may awaken minutes after arrest, while others may take days.
My proposed project addresses this knowledge gap by working to ascertain the implications of beginning environmental enrichment at different times in the recovery process, conceivably determining the optimal time at which enrichment should be initiated in clinical settings. Due to the ongoing pandemic and temporary laboratory closures, I will now be putting my efforts into conducting a remote review of environmental enrichment in cerebral ischemia, a condition that creates similar oxygen deprivation and neural damage in the brain.
I will be working under the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Mioara Manole, MD, throughout the summer to facilitate this review. We believe environmental enrichment has great potential to be an effective method of rehabilitation for patients who’ve suffered brain damage of any sort because of its noninvasive qualities and easy reproducibility, especially for patients without a strong economic background who may not have the resources to afford a rehabilitation facility.
As of now, my goal is to pursue a degree in medicine and potentially spend some time working in limited resource regions across the world to aid those with minimal access to healthcare. In addition to refining my written and verbal communication skills, I believe the Brackenridge will allow me to grow as a learner outside science by immersing me in a pool of students with varied research interests and aspirations. Moreover, the Brackenridge will also serve as a stepping stone in my career path by allowing me to network with a library of knowledgeable individuals who will (hopefully) impart some needed advice in my direction. Looking forward to working with fellow scholars this summer!