SPUR 2022: HUMAN BRAIN ORGANOIDS: A PERSONALIZED APPROACH TO TREAT EPILEPSY

Mentor Name:
Jan Kubanek

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor

Department:
Bioengineering

College:
Engineering

Email:
jan.kubanek@utah.edu


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 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. 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 2022 application.**

This project uses human brain organoids as a tool to study and treat the neural bases of neurological disorders, and epilepsy in particular. This is a cutting-edge project; the engaged student will be one of the few people in the world who will be working with these brains and record and manipulate their electrophysiological activity. The project is developed to the point where the student can begin to record from the organoids immediately.



Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position


Student Role:

The student will determine the electrophysiological mechanisms that underlie epilepsy in the human brain. Specifically, the student will compare the electrophysiological activity of brain organoids from healthy subjects to organoids derived from the genome of epileptic patients. The student will introduce specific drugs that interact with specific ion channels, and determine which agent is most effective to quench epilepsy in the brain tissue of the given patient. This approach opens a path to personalized treatments of epilepsy, and may evolve into large collaborations with the industry.


Student Benefits:

The project is highly interdisciplinary. It combines the study of developmental biology (growing brain tissue), engineering (implanting and recording from individual neurons), and science (the mechanisms underlying spilepsy). It allows the student to synthesize her/his knowledge of multiple domains or classes and put them into practical use. It also enables the student to further her/his experience with data analysis. This project is highly attractive and the student will present the results at a national conference. This shall further her/his sense of accomplishment, excitement about the project, and her/his enthusiasm for research and science. Regarding specific learning outcomes, the student will Learn about a new model of the human brain---human brain organoids grown from induced pluripotent stem cells. Learn how to record electrophysiological activity from the organoids using implanted electrode arrays. Learn how to analyze the signal. Learn how to visualize epileptic versus normal brain activity. Learn how to stop epileptic activity with appropriate agents.


Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022


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 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; 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. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. 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 the University of Utah, 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 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).