Khushi Singh (BB1)
Interned at IIT Delhi (SURA)
Domain: The Pathoetiology (related to investigating the causes of a disease) of Schizophrenia
During the summer of my second year, I undertook a SURA - Student Undergraduate Research Award project under Prof Tapan Nayak from KSBS, Kusuma School of Biological Sciences, part of the bio cluster here at IIT Delhi. My topic was investigating the aberrations in ion channels, neurons and brain neuronal circuits in the pathoetiology of Schizophrenia.
I have always been transparent about what I want to do – I wanted to pursue research, specifically in neuroscience. The SBL100 course in biotech’s third semester ran parallel to our core courses and placed me in a position to contribute meaningfully to class discussions. So when I approached Prof Nayak for a SURA project, knowing his expertise in neuroscience, he readily agreed to offer me one. Having already been involved in a semester-long internship on the mechanism of Nicotine addiction and seeing the relevance of the topic offered to me, I was immediately drawn in.
Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental disorder. Its exact cause is unknown, which results in a lack of a standard diagnostic test or specific drugs for the disorder. Only 20% of the patients' systems are manageable and the annual costs amount to approximately $63 million, implying that treatment or support is unaffordable for most. I was investigating the hypothesis that dysfunction of alpha7 Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (NAChRs) disturbs the balance of the excitatory (Glutamate) and inhibitory (GABA) receptors in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which leads to the disturbances in gamma oscillations observed in Schizophrenics. My research involved a literature review and simulation of the system, with variable parameters to study their impact and work out the plausibility of the hypothesis. This involved using the NEURON simulation environment, the HOC (High Order Calculator) and Python programming languages. The exact cause of Schizophrenia is currently an active area of research and a lot of conflicting papers exist. The literature review and the eventual implementation of the information gleaned was challenging but I genuinely enjoyed the process. I ended up with files for 4 neurons, 19 ion channels, 7 receptors and some other additional mechanisms such as pumps, buffers etc. All these files were accessed via a HOC ‘driver code’ and the process was eventually automated using a Python script. My experience with SURA was amazing, a lot of which is courtesy my PI (Principal Investigator) Prof. Tapan Nayak who let me work at my own pace, discovering and learning from my mistakes.
To the average sophomore, I advise them to try whatever interests them. The second-year internship is an ideal time for everyone to gauge their interests and try something new that they might get into. If you are considering research as a potential career, but have reservations or are unsure about your domain of interest, undertaking small research projects with a professor over the winter break is an excellent idea.