Summer Placement Experience: Benjamin Lawrence
2022-01-14

Hi, my name is Benjamin and I’m a 3rd year medical student in Aberdeen. I completed my summer research project on Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) having received the DuthStra Surgical Endowed Scholarship for 2021. I would like to briefly share my experience with you by considering some of the exciting work I got up to over the summer period and stressing how much I have gained from this opportunity overall.

Over the past few years, I have studied many medical specialties and developed a real enthusiasm for the workings of the nervous system, in particular the neurological diseases which affect the spinal cord in children. For this reason, I decided that I wanted to research SMA – allow me to give you a short overview of the disease, as well as my project.

SMA is a genetic condition, often starting during infancy, in which proximal muscles become weak and later waste away due to a loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord. SMA is a rare condition, but in recent years, new drug treatments have become available for many with the disease. Interestingly, growing evidence continues to show that SMA may actually affect multiple organ systems throughout the body, not just the nervous system. We believe that blood vessels may also be abnormal in SMA. To investigate this, we needed to establish the underlying level of disease in SMA spinal cord – this formed the basis of my project. 

Over the course of the scholarship I was able to undertake a wide range of practical work. In the anatomy department I performed cadaveric dissection of the back and spinal cord which provided a different insight into such a fascinating area of the human body. I carried out further work in the Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS) where I was involved with tissue embedding, sectioning, staining, microscopy and stereological technique. Understandably, I experienced many challenges at several points along this learning curve; from having to re-evaluate experimental design to deciphering outlying results. But I have still been able to develop a solid foundation from which I can continue further learning and research alongside my medical studies in the future.

This endowed scholarship is particularly centred towards medical students with a passion for human anatomy and pathology. I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity to explore my own interests within these fields. I would encourage all students interested in these areas of medicine to apply for this scholarship to receive a truly world-class experience that will follow you for the rest of your medical career.

Published by The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, University of Aberdeen

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