The chalk talks we presented and listened to earlier this week were all really interesting, and everyone did a wonderful job of explaining what projects they’re working on this summer. But Michael’s chalk talk especially stood out to me, because while many of the projects, including mine, were mainly stuck on the primary stages of looking into and understanding certain processes before thinking about application, I thought Michael’s project on pain seemed to be a few steps ahead, being more developed in the sense that it is founded on well-researched principles and also has direct applications in health and medicine.
Michael’s project is centered around the STING protein, which is believed to be important in the regulation of pain and the immune system. Because STING is naturally found in the body to activate interferons, reducing neuroinflammation, and thus pain, his lab believes that increasing the amount of STING protein in the body could throw a wrench in the vicious cycle of chronic pain and possibly make strides towards discovering an effective solution to both cancer and the opioid crisis.
Michael’s experiments include poking mice with filaments that exert different levels of force in order to observe their response and tolerance to pain. His job will be to locate the exact threshold at which the mice are able to sense their own pain, but he is also working on eliminating other possible factors that might contribute to an increased pain response, of which includes anxiety, which will eventually allow for a clearer and more solid conclusion.
There’s still a lot to discover about the mechanisms and logistics behind STING, of course. But their project is built upon previous research that seems quite promising. Michael’s research is fascinating, and will be monumental if the results turn out positive. If we can control pain, without that leading to more and more problems, the world of injury and healing could change dramatically. But at this early stage, I wonder about long-term effects (which they are looking into at the Ji lab as well), practicality, and even future avenues: could pain eventually become something that can be eliminated entirely? And if so, should it be?
Either way, I loved hearing Michael’s chalk talk, which he presented in an engaging and articulate manner, and enjoyed having the chance to view pain from a perspective I’ve never thought to consider before. I’d always thought of pain as an essential part of being human, a warning sign to injury. But maybe, this relationship isn’t so clear cut. Maybe there’s something to discover that we never could have imagined.
And isn’t that what research is all about, anyway?