Aboli Kesbhat: Recovery from Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury

About Me:

My name is Aboli Kesbhat and I am a rising senior. I am majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology with minors in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and Chemistry. I hope to graduate to attend medical school and, eventually, be a doctor! I am interested in pediatrics, neuroscience, and women’s health.

My ultimate career goal of being a doctor relies heavily on my current ability to communicate with students across disciplines and future ability to communicate with patients from all walks of life. Something unique about me is that I was the Allocations Committee Chairwoman of the University’s Student Government this past year. In this role, I distributed a portion of the student activities fee to student organizations with a diverse array of objectives. I collaborated with all five-hundred student groups on campus to fund, better, and diversify the Pitt experience. Serving as Chairwoman, I had the opportunity to interact with students whose interests lie in the arts & humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and have learned to explain things to them in a way that is relevant and understandable to their unique ways of thinking. These students have had experiences with the campus, community, and world that are very different than mine. Although different, their experiences have taught me to incorporate different perspectives into my explanations of the funding process that may seem entirely foreign to someone outside of the Allocations Committee.

I hope to further my ability to communicate to any individual, regardless of background, as a member of the interdisciplinary community provided by the Brackenridge Fellowship because I believe that it will inform my hopeful career as a doctor. In being able to craft how I explain a science-heavy project with wide-reaching implications to this community of diverse students, I will practice how to explain things to my future patients. Being a doctor means more than a simple expertise in the sciences, it means being able to put myself in the shoes of others, make decisions in their best interest, and explain complex medicine to them in a way that is digestible and relevant to their backgrounds. Thus, this fellowship will enhance the crucial skill of communication through interdisciplinary collaboration – a skill that every good doctor needs. Medicine is inutile if it cannot be translated to those who need it; this community of students will teach me how to do just that.  

My Project:

In the United States, pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and physical/cognitive disability in children. Children sustaining TBIs often struggle to succeed at home, at school, and in the community due to long-term neurobehavioral impairments, or difficulties in their thinking skills, after injury. Although brain injuries may have long-term consequences for a child’s cognitive, physical, and social functioning, doctors cannot accurately predict which children will successfully recover from their brain injury and which children will have these ongoing difficulties. This unexplained heterogeneity in how children recover needs to be investigated to improve our ability to provide accurate prognoses, identify children at greatest risk for impairment, and develop effective interventions. To delve into this investigation, my incredible mentor, Dr. Amery Treble-Barna, has spearheaded the EETR (Epigenetic Effects on TBI Recovery) study on which I serve as a research assistant.

To investigate how adversity and injury affect the genes vital to recovery, it is first necessary to accurately capture measures of adversity and injury. My project will focus on a measure of adversity that assesses psychosocial risk called the Psychosocial Assessment Tool (or the PAT). The PAT has previously demonstrated reliability as a measure of psychosocial risk in pediatric populations suffering from cancer, sickle cell disease, irritable bowel disease, and headache, but has not yet been studied with TBIs. It is necessary to evaluate the PAT’s internal consistency in a population of pediatric TBIs to establish it as a reliable tool to gauge childhood adversity. Therefore, my objectives are twofold: to characterize psychosocial risk and demonstrate reliability of a measure of childhood adversity in pediatric TBI using the PAT.

By observing how psychosocial risk manifests in children with TBIs, doctors and neuropsychologists can assess whether recovery from the injury will be affected by previous experiences the child has had with their family, friends, and peers. This project will allow doctors and neuropsychologists to access a reliable clinical tool, the PAT, to identify those children that may be at risk for poor recovery following their brain injury. Further, this will inform other caretakers, such as parents and teachers, about how the child that has suffered from a TBI may behave at home, at school, and in the community. The information gained from this project will tailor treatments, lesson plans, and parenting styles during a child’s recovery to develop an environment conducive to their rehabilitation. Therefore, to characterize childhood adversity using a reliable measure is to provide key information to neuropsychologists, teachers, and parents about how a child may recover from a TBI.

Aboli Kesbhat

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