W&J sophomore’s lab experience a precursor to medical career

Created: January 23, 2018
Last Updated: April 1, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Jan. 23, 2018)—Staying current on industry trends is an important facet of the Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) education, and it’s one that sophomore biochemistry major Elisa Yazdani ’20 got to experience this summer.

With funding support from the Magellan Project’s Franklin Internship Award, Elisa spent the summer working in a lab at Duke University. She joined an ongoing study with the Institute of Brain Science at Duke to examine the effects that paternal exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has on offspring in rats.

“It was a pilot study, so nothing like that had ever been done before,” she said. “I thought it was relevant to me wanting to pursue a medical career because it really is a debate still going on in the medical field as to the benefits and harms of THC. It was really interesting to be a part of this study and see how a lab operated.”

THC has recently been a hot topic of debate in the medical community. In small, controlled doses, THC has been used experimentally to enhance appetite in people with HIV as well as to treat refractory nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy, though it may be best known for being the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. However, not much scientific research has been done on the drug or its effects, and Elisa was excited to be part of a pioneering study in the medical field.

Elisa spent 11 weeks on the study, initially observing work but eventually being able to run tests on her own and do the work of a lab technician. Researchers studied effects in the offspring in several areas, looking for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and changes from the control group in memory, weight, eating habits, attention span, and sexual behavior. The lab also tested neurochemical effects of THC and how it affected development in the brain, kidney, and spleen.

While the study didn’t find a statistically significant difference in the experimental group versus the control group, researchers did hypothesize that the small dosage could have affected the results. The lab will conduct another study using a higher dosage to see if the results change, and Elisa has an open invitation to return.

Elisa isn’t ready to commit to summer plans just yet, though. She’s interested in another lab experience before she graduates, but is looking into other options, including planning a potential Magellan experience in Italy to examine the inner workings of the country’s healthcare system.

“Keeping up with a blog [as part of the Magellan requirement] and documenting my experience was great because it helped me think about the important things I wanted to remember from the experiment,” she said of her experience. “I really like the flexibility it gave me. It’s great that we have that opportunity through the College.”

Read Elisa’s Magellan blog 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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