W&J junior dedicated her summer to researching a treatment for paralysis

Created: September 28, 2017
Last Updated: August 3, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Sept. 28, 2017)—When Rachel Stingel ’19 was looking for lab experience over the summer, she never imagined her research could change lives.

Rachel, a Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) junior and neuroscience major, traveled across the state to Temple University to work in George Smith’s, Ph.D., lab at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine with funding from W&J’s Magellan Project. She joined the preliminary phases of a study looking into paralysis and a potential treatment for those who sustained injuries that affected their movement.

For her part of the study, Rachel first created a virus to facilitate the examination of the role of the protein Armcx1 in axonal regeneration after an injury, which focuses on transporting mitochondria. It is believed that an increase of mitochondrial motility could aid in regenerating axons, the part of a nerve cell that conducts impulses from cell to cell and transports information – like feelings of touch or warmth – through the body. If the study can connect the dots, the research could potentially find a way to reverse some of the damage caused by paralysis-inducing injuries.

“I wouldn’t say fully cure … but restoration of motor function, at least to some extent, is what we’re aiming for,” Rachel said of her research. “There are so many things that go wrong when a spinal cord is injured. You have tons of different systems in the body doing this particular thing. There’s so many circuits that are destroyed. By using genetics, we’ll hopefully cure some of these circuits and restore a substantial amount of motor systems compared to the loss they had upon initial injury.”

Because of the complex nature of the study, Rachel said it will likely be conducted over the course of a few years. She did so well in Smith’s lab that she’s been asked to continue her research here at W&J, and she hopes she’s asked back to spend more time in the lab at Temple next summer.

“I never anticipated having this much fun during an internship,” Rachel said. “Although there were some ups and downs, I felt as though I grew as a person and overcame a lot of adversity. This internship definitely challenged my abilities, and I think that was my favorite part as it allowed me to come up with new ideas and ways to solve things.”

Great job, Rachel! It’s awesome to see our Presidents taking advantage of incredible learning opportunities and making a difference in the world. See more examples of W&J students rocking it at cool  internships  here.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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