Campus / News / Student Research / May 22, 2008

Senior makes stroke breakthrough

It was 3 a.m. this past summer and senior Mark Munoz was in the middle of working 50 hours straight at a hospital in Oregon when he discovered his senior honors project. He started the project in the fall and it lasted him all the way through spring term.

“My project is all about stroke therapy,” said Munoz. “I ate, slept, and breathed science. It was a weird feeling.” Munoz said he has at times during the project spent 60 hours a week in his lab in SMC.

Current stroke therapy involves physically cooling the patient’s brain in order to reduce the rate of cell death. However, this can have severe complications because it also thickens the blood, which increases the chance of clots forming. In his research, Munoz tested to see whether he could achieve the same benefits of physical cooling but avoid the dangers involved. By triggering the neuron that is activated by cold temperatures using menthol, Munoz mimicked the feeling of cold instead of physically cooling the brain, thus avoiding the serious complications of inducing hypothermia in a stroke patient.

“Hypothermia in the clinical setting is very dangerous,” said Munoz. “Menthol is safe, effective, and cheap.”

A stroke is a brain injury caused by complications with the blood vessels in the brain. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States and second in the world.

Munoz spent his time gathering data by experimenting with rats in his laboratory and then presented his findings over spring break. He has presented his work at the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago and the Illinois State Academy of Sciences. He hopes to present his findings at the National Society of Neuroscience in Washington D.C. and write an article based on his research.

Assistant Professor of Biology Esther Penick was Munoz’s advisor for the project, while he also received guidance from Linda Dybass, professor of biology, and Heather Hoffman, professor of psychology. Since Munoz’s project was relatively new for students at Knox, he received help with his model from John Barks, a professor at the University of Michigan.

“The hard thing about this project is that its never been done before at Knox,” said Munoz. “I’m actually very lucky to have gotten data and the data I got.”

The two main implications Munoz discovered with his project were an explanation of how hypothermia in a clinical setting and showing that menthol is a safe chemical to use. Munoz will give a presentation as part of his honors defense on Friday May 23 from 10:40 to 11:10 in SMC A107 which is open to all students.

“I was hoping the project would help me get into med school,” said Munoz. “It did.”

Munoz plans on attending the medical school at OHSU in Portland and studying neurobiology.

“There’s no shortage of need for research in the field,” said Munoz.

Mark Munoz is the Discourse Editor for The Knox Student.

Laura Miller

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