Public Health Research in Nepal

It’s been exactly a month since I last wrote the blog regarding my research project in Nepal. Within this month of January, I, along with other members of our team Swastha Nepal, got to have an experience of a lifetime while we were in the country. I could not update the blogs about my project while in Nepal since we were detached from computers and pretty much all forms of technology while we were in the village. However, now that I am back to civilization and have access to the internet, here’s a summary of the project and my Nepal trip experience.

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Nepal, here we come!

Two days from now, I will be in Kathmandu, Nepal with my fellow team members of Swastha Nepal. The forever anticipated service trip to Nepal by this team is finally becoming true.  This anticipation that started over a year ago is now becoming a reality, and for this the credit goes to our professor mentors and the wonderful team that have worked together to make this happen. The main purpose of this service trip is to investigate the problems affecting the health of the rural population in Nepal and create a foundation for future trips to the community.

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Throughout the past studies, it had been evidenced that alcohol-exposed animals get impaired in learning trace fear conditioning, but show normal delay conditioning because alcohol can affect the development and functioning of the hippocampus.  In some cases, behavioral deficits seen in alcohol-exposed individuals (humans and rodents) can go away with development. Hyperactivity, for example, is seen in animals up through adolescence, but as adults the alcohol-exposed animals are no longer hyperactive. In the very lab I’m involved here at the College, studies had been carried out in the past to show that  impairment in trace conditioning (a hippocampus task)  is persistent in adolescent rats but  their  delay  conditioning(non-hippocampus task) is not affected. However, in the researches carried out, the animals that were tested were all adolescent (about 30 days old).  My summer project was designed to study delay and trace conditioning in fetal alcohol rats that were trained as adults. The purpose of my summer project was to determine if the deficit in trace conditioning persists into adulthood.

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This semester, after being back to the lab from summer, I’d been working in the lab to finish up my unfinished project.  As a measure of learning seen in the alcohol induced adult rats in our lab, we used a process called “scoring”. It is a measure of immobility.  We watched the video tapes from over the summer; and using a stopwatch, recorded how long each rat in the testing box would remain immobile or ‘freeze’ during the exposure of light condition. Specifically, this scoring involved a time sampling procedure which included briefly looking at the animal behavior at a specific time during the test run. For our experiment, we observed the rats every 2 seconds (during that 10s period of light exposure) and so we had a total of five observations. The animals could be freezing or not during the light exposure. Rather than taking a measure of how long the animal froze, we recorded a percentage of freezing for our purpose. For instance, we recorded the freezing as ranging from 0-20-40-60- 80-100% (0seconds to 10seconds) at a time rather than saying it remained in freezing state  for six seconds. We made sure that the recordings we have were just during the light exposure interval, and not the other time.To make sure that the freezing data would be dependable, we recorded the rats behavior  also during a baseline period (as freezing or not) the same way we recorded it during the light interval, and compared them.

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The Lab Experience: Summer and Williamsburg

Spending my summer at the college doing research turned out as interesting as I expected it would be. Even though the cold and sometimes freezing basement of Integrated Science Centre at the school was hardly the place one would want to be in the summertime, the  summer lab experience was totally worth it. Working in developmental psychology lab with Fetal Alcohol animals was a good learning experience.  However, there was a lot of carefulness to not let things go wrong and at times there would always be the fear of hurting the animals while intubating the tiny ones. Sometimes it would be unfortunate and some animals would get hurt during intubation, but the there was always the moving on.  Besides the lab work, meeting other people with similar research interests and projects was very interesting as well. Whether they were environmental biology researchers who would go collect ticks in the fields since early in the morning, or fellow researchers working all day long in the chemistry lab,  hearing about each of their projects were  interesting. At the same time, reading about fellow researchers’ blog and their work on diverse topics as witchcraft and linguistics were fascinating.  With two months of working in the lab, taking a class and hanging around at  Yorktown beach on Fridays and the Colonial Williamsburg during the free time with friends, my summer in Williamsburg was a good experience. Even though it’s been just two weeks that I left Williamsburg, I am looking forward to go back in the lab and work on scoring the data to finish my unfinished project this semester!