The junior year has been my best school year as I had plenty of opportunities to immerse myself in activities related to neuroscience. From class learning to projects to presentation, I found myself learning many new concepts about our nervous system. I even got to build my neuron model that you see in the picture above. To begin with, I learned about how neurotransmitters, action potentials, and other chemical signals are released after imbalances occur in chemical gradients, leading to various reactions in the brain. For example, the brain releases dopamine (chemical messenger or neurotransmitter) during happy activities. Did you know that maintaining balanced dopamine levels are important for memory, learning behavior and muscle movement? Eating a lot of saturated food or deficiency of vitamin D could lead to low levels of dopamine, which in return, could lead to nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s. On the other hand, having high levels of dopamine could lead to conditions like ADHD and other mental disorders. I also delved into Neurofibromatosis type 1, a somewhat rare disease that results in benign and cancerous tumors spreading under the skin. Through my research paper and journal entries illustrating the life of a young child with NF1, I realized how patients must also deal with learning disabilities because of the tumors, but that the treatment for them such as stereotactic radiosurgery can be effective at an early age. I felt immense joy in dwelling in that space of my brain! The research about the disorder that is just one out of hundreds allowed me to appreciate the complexity of the brain, and how much I must still learn about it. The process of discovering why a disease occurs, its symptoms, and how to treat it was enlightening, and I will pursue that with several other interesting cases in the future.
My love of the brain and human nervous system was not limited to just my biology class. I wanted to explore more. Online courses through colleges provided me with an understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the brain, information about the four different lobes and their functions, different neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine, and much more. Did you know that the parietal lobe has a triangular shaped area called the parietal association cortex which helps us understand writing and solve math problems? Or the fact that GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, can be used to decrease activity in an organism? Learning about GABA was helpful in my independent research project for the last few months. It has been an extraordinary journey studying the presence of GABA in flatworms and how it may affect their regenerative abilities. As a high school student, I found it challenging to get access to RNAi technology to study the regenerative ability of planaria. However, my knowledge of GABA came in handy as an alternative way to study it. Something that has always fascinated me about neuroscience including this situation is the fact that something I may have learned a while back will emerge in the form of a new idea or problem, and I can creatively apply my knowledge to figure out an innovative way to solve it.
During my 11th grade, I was able to find an amazing opportunity to shadow a neurosurgeon in his clinic, and associate different neurological conditions with patients. I found this to be the easiest and most effective way to remember certain diseases. Additionally, the experience of interacting with patients and engaging with the emotional aspect of being a doctor was quite enjoyable and informative. I really think that these clinical visits have been impactful on my perspective of what being a medical professional entails, and I am eager to learn more.
With regards to discovering the brain in different ways, I do not see myself stopping here, as I am eager to do my own research to hopefully satisfy some of my curiosities about our brains. Our nervous system is fascinating, and it is in this space I wish to immerse myself.