Faculty Name:
Melissa Cortez


Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Migraine is associated with an increased sensitivity to the sensory environment – both during, and outside of, the migraine attack. Second only to the head pain, photophobia is the most debilitating symptom reported by people with migraine. Melanopsin containing intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) are thought to play a role in migraine-associated light sensitivity, and may influence chromatic (color-specific) differences in light sensitivity. A better understanding of the effects of chromaticity in migraine-associated photophobia could have widespread benefits, including improving understanding of neural mechanisms and leading to opportunities for individualized therapies (personalized medicine). The current project will examine chromatic specificity of light sensitivity in migraine subjects. In previous work, we have found that severity of photophobia in migraine scales with disease severity, and is associated with shifts in pupillary light responses. These alterations are thought to result from centrally mediated autonomic adaptations to chronic light sensitivity. Emerging data suggests that pupillary responses to light and light sensitivity in migraineurs may be linked by differences ipRGC function. We want to follow-up this prior work by examining the chromatic-specificity of light sensitivity, and their associated pupillary responses in photophobic migraine subjects. Thus, this project will examine differences in light sensitivity in migraineurs exposed to various wavelengths of light.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

Student research assistants will participate in the design, execution, analysis, and publication of research as appropriate. Project 1 (In-Person): Laboratory based data collection of chromatic light sensitivity thresholds and pupillary light responses in migraine and normal control subjects. Migraine subjects will be tested at baseline, and during a migraine attack. Students participate in recording pupillary light responses and sensory threshold data. Analysis will involve using MATLAB, ImageJ and Excel to visualize, clean and analyze the resultant data. Responsibilities will include running and documenting data collection sessions, summarizing data collected in table and figures, summarizing research findings in reports written to the lab manager, and reviewing/discussing pertinent literature on the project. Remote Contingency Plan: Project 2 (Remote): Web- and cell-phone based data collection. In this scenario, we will use a web-based application to provide a chromatic sensitivity assessment and measure pupillary responses, as well as provide a migraine diary to measure self-reports of sensory sensitivities (emphasis on visual and color sensitivity) and migraine-related symptoms at baseline and during a migraine attack. During both sessions, participants will be asked to report the details of their head pain and participate in a series of light stimuli provided by the display. Under project 2, the student will perform data collection remotely via a web-based application. Here the student’s analysis responsibilities will be similar to project 1, but will also include development of the web-based interface, followed by provision of reminders to study participants submitting remote data.

Student Benefits:

In general, I treat summer undergraduates as if they are visiting graduate students or research interns. Thus, this will be a great experience for students who are trying to determine whether they want to go into graduate school level research. They will gain valuable experience with a number of techniques that will be valuable to potential graduate students, such as study design, recruitment, interaction with research participants, assessing PLRs, psychophysical techniques for the measurement of sensory thresholds, cleaning and analyzing data, and summarizing data. Previous research interns from our lab have gone on to successful applications to medical school and graduate school programs in bioengineering. In addition to presenting at the OUR Summer Symposium, we will ask the student to complete a final presentation for the lab based on what they have learned during their time in the lab. If the project is successful, the student may be asked to be an author on subsequent publications and international conferences where this work is presented.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.