From Lab to Clinic: Four Years of Student Research at PCOM
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Student Research Spotlight: Nathan Morrison (DO '22) 
Four Years of Research at PCOM

November 3, 2021

Note: Photos were taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and campus mask mandates.

PCOM student researcher Nathan Morrison (DO '22) abd his mother on the Philadelphia campusAfter graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from James Madison University and a Master of Science in Healthcare Systems Engineering from Lehigh University, Nathan Morrison (DO ‘22) began his medical education at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). As an undergrad and master’s student, Mr. Morrison was actively involved in psychology and systems engineering research before arriving at PCOM. Below, Morrison shares his research journey at PCOM, both in a clinical and laboratory setting.

What prompted you to pursue research?

I have always had an intense curiosity for the progression of science and medicine. As an undergraduate biology major, I became interested in the study of “how things worked.” During my studies, I had a psychology professor ask for volunteer students to contribute to a project on interpersonal reconstructive therapy (IRT). In this project, I transcribed audio files to text and integrated the text into a scoring system to assess patient improvement. 

I studied healthcare systems engineering and furthered my knowledge of complex systems processes when I was a graduate student. I completed my capstone project in forecasting emergency department volumes based on a variety of geographic, socioeconomic factors and public health factors. A professional goal of mine is to optimize hospital system efficiency, eliminate waste and increase patient-centered care.

As a medical student, I have found it fascinating to be involved in laboratory and clinical research to witness, analyze and interpret first-hand scientific results. Research has made me appreciate the advancement of medicine and innovation that improves our ability to manage patients and outcomes. Without research, we would not be able to compare current treatments or offer newer and advanced options.

Describe your experience with research during your time at PCOM.

I have worked on several research projects at PCOM. In my first year, I began working on a research project with Arturo Bravo-Nuevo, PhD, associate professor, neuroscience. Our research involved the study of the role of Myo/Nog cells in mediating neuroprotection in a model of Alzheimer's disease.

As a fourth-year student, I elected to do a research month during one of my rotation blocks to finish some aspects of the project and assist with preparing a manuscript submitted for publication. I found the laboratory to be both rewarding and challenging as a medical student. There were many laboratory techniques I had to learn, such as cryosectioning, double immunofluorescent staining, cell counting using a microscope, image acquisition, and Photoshop editing. I also performed statistical analyses demonstrating that the addition of Myo/Nog cells to the injured brain reduced cell death.

I also conducted research as a third-year student in a clinical research setting. During my elective rotation in emergency medicine, which I am now applying to for residency, I met many supportive physician mentors. In the field of emergency medicine, a high volume of patients are evaluated and treated. One of my mentors had encountered two patients with "unique" presentations. After assessing the cases, I offered to write the two case reports with the patient care team and submit them for publication. Encountering, assessing, and writing distinctive case reports are a gratifying way to make other providers aware of patient presentations they may not have seen prior in a clinical setting.

Also, during my third year, I was invited to research opioid education and prevention for grades K-12 in Pennsylvania. My classmate, Gabriella Mamo (DO ‘22), had worked with Peter Clark, PhD, as an undergraduate at St. Joseph’s University and asked me to assist on the project. This project was a continuation of work done in conjunction with St. Joseph’s University, PCOM and Mercy Catholic Medical Center.

Describe your responsibilities in your research projects.

In the laboratory at PCOM Philadelphia, I have learned many different laboratory techniques. The project we recently completed was on the role of Myo-Nog cells in brain neuroprotection after acute injury. My responsibilities involved cryosectioning, tissue staining, cell counting with double immunohistochemistry and capturing of microscopic images in both fluorescent and confocal microscopy. Once the data was collected, I was able to use my engineering skills to perform a statistical analysis of the data using the software Minitab. Figures were then created of the statistical data and microscopic images for publishing. When all the data and images were completed, I managed the submission process and the communication with all the authors to write and edit a manuscript.

During my case report experiences, I was involved in writing the manuscript and submission. Becoming involved in these projects is a combination of realizing the unique aspect of the patient presentation and reaching out to residents or the attending physician to help develop the case report.

What is the broader impact of your research?

Our recent study examines early events surrounding a brain injury, focusing on Myo/Nog cells. Myo/Nog cells are shown to reduce neuronal cell death by almost 40% when compared to controls. This study demonstrated the potential of Myo/Nog cells in neuroprotection and possible intervention in the management of brain injury. This research was recently accepted for publication by the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The case reports I was involved in are helpful to other providers whose patients may have similar presentations. Their possible diagnoses and management mustn’t be overlooked in an acute care setting.

Finally, the goal of the opioid education and prevention paper was to propose a curriculum for grades K-12 in Pennsylvania. The harm reduction theory is the basis of this educational project. It is offered for students to recognize that drug use and abuse will occur regardless, and to educate them on the negative consequences.

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