Friday, October 30, 2009

Brain stimulation among other things...

Yesterday I was reminded of this crazy job I had once when I was in medical school. I worked at a place called the Brain Stimulation Laboratory, which was located (of course) a Psychiatry Hospital. I did this for almost a year, some while taking med school classes. It was a strange place. There was the mad scientist/inventor/manic doctor who ran the place. He was rumored to only sleep a few hours each night and had a CV that weighed about 10 pounds because he had so many publications and inventions. I had a desk in a room with two other scientists–one was a Israeli-Russian guy, Jewish, who happened to hate working with the other one–a Japanese women. They were in cubicles on opposite sides of the room, as far as they could be from each other, and the fighting exchanges between them were outrageously entertaining. My desk was of course located in the cubicle between the two, where I spent most of my time trying not to laugh when they lapsed into their forgein tongues to mutter curses at each other. Fortunately I was out of the room and down the hall in the lab most of the time.

We were working on something that the defense department was funding–an investigation into whether we could create a “thinking cap” to keep fighter pilots from falling asleep when sleep-deprived. I was just doing my part in the war on terror, ya’ll. What it involved: getting volunteers to sign up to be sleep-deprived for several nights a week (they were monitored in a wing of the hospital where I can only image the poor nurse poking them to keep them awake all night), and then instructed to fly a flight simulator program for most of the next day. While they were “flying” I directed either real or placebo magnetic stimulation (TMS) to a specific part of their brain. (We had previously used a fMRI to locate the area we’d target in each indivual). Lest you think that a magnet can’t stimulate the human brain, think again! For part of the set up of the procedure, I moved the magnet over the motor cortex until the subject’s thumb twitched involuntarily with each pulse of the magnet. Needless to say, we were not successful in creating a “thinking cap.” But the data we gathered revealed a whole lot of other stuff in sleep deprivation research, and people are still anazyling what we gathered and writing about it in professional journals!

Why this is sorta cool: scientists have to add me as an author any time they use the data I collected in their studies! So that means there are all sorts of studies that I get my name on without having to do any more research than I did that year in med school. Cool deal, right? I guess it works out well if you are building up your CV for all the hoops you have to jump through in academic medicine. So to all my med student friends: try to get in on the data collection or benchwork level whenever you can, since it’s higher yield in terms of the number of times you get your name put on stuff. Just part of the game, ya’ll.

So anyway, yesterday I got an email with another manuscript to review and sign off on that’s going to print. And I hardly lifted a finger!