Student researches pancreatitis at Hershey Medical Center

02-07-Michael-5-Melissa-HessA biopsychology major, Michael Skolka ’14 wants to influence science and human health care through medical research. For the summer of 2013, he garnered one of the 24 spots in the undergraduate research fellows program through the American Physiological Society, which allowed him to research pancreatitis at Penn State Hershey Medical Center with Alberto Travagli, professor of neural and behavioral sciences at Penn State.

He credits Messiah’s Sheri Boyce, professor of biology, for serving as his mentor. “She helped read over my research and proposals and gave me lots of advice,” he said.

Skolka studied the neurological changes that occur after a patient’s episode of acute pancreatitis (AP). Even though AP typically resolves itself in one week, patients continue to experience discomfort for up to two years. Skolka identified changes in the network of neurons connected to the pancreas that may lead to these long-lasting symptoms. With Travagli, he used these results to write a new project proposal for 2013 focusing on a medical procedure that removes stones from the pancreas. (Five to 10 percent of patients develop AP after this procedure). Skolka and Travagli tested lidocaine on rats to dull the pain during the procedure and hopefully prevent the onset of AP. Their preliminary data shows that their hypothesis was correct: lidocaine sprayed into the pancreatic duct during the procedure indeed reduced post-procedural AP.

“Now that we know this, the next steps include continuing to work on this model of AP in hopes of eventually transitioning these results from the lab to the bedside,” explained Skolka.

In April, Skolka will present his research at Experimental Biology 2014, an annual meeting of 14,000 scientists and researchers in San Diego, Calif. “Neuroscience is fascinating. To study how the complex systems function in our bodies each day without us being aware is very interesting to me,” said Skolka.

He plans to attend Penn State Hershey College of Medicine in July.


Story by Adela Antal ’16. Photo courtesy of Melissa Hess.

Posted in Biochemistry, Class of 2014, Grad School Bound, Honors Program, Internships, Majors & Minors, Scholarship | Comments Off

Posted on March 17th, 2014

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