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Student seeks to advance neurological injury treatments

August 24, 2008

For Brian Brown, the interest in attending ASU can be summed up into one word: opportunity.

“I came to ASU,” says the kinesiology major in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, “because I knew that I would have many opportunities to try different hobbies and find the right major.”

Brown received a National Achievement Scholarship, an ASU merit-based scholarship awarded to students who have earned nationwide recognition for their academic achievements. In qualifying for the award, he was identified by the National Merit Corporation/CollegeBoard, based on his PSAT performance, as a National Achievement Scholar. He also was named to the CLAS Dean’s List by maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Devin Jindrich, a kinesiology professor with ties to UC Berkeley and UCLA, mentors Brown through his undergraduate research. “One of the things I really like about Dr. Jindrich as a mentor,” says Brown, “is that he takes the time to meet with me regularly to explain concepts and keep me on track.”

“Brian is an excellent student with a very positive attitude and willingness to tackle many different challenges,” says Jindrich in return.

Jindrich is working with Brown on three separate research projects. In one project, Brown is working with another undergraduate student, Danielle Protas, investigating the neurotransmitter pathways in lab rats. He helps Jindrich electrically stimulate the brain of an anesthetized rat and measure the electrical response of its muscles.

“We are selectively blocking six different neurotransmitters and investigating the impacts these blockers have on the motor-evoked potentials (MEPs),” says Jindrich. “This project is significant because measuring MEPs is a safe method for assessing the severity of spinal cord injury (SCI) and evaluating recovery due to emerging treatments for SCI.”

Brown is also working with graduate student Mu Qiao to test whether humans use control rules to stabilize running that are equivalent to those developed by Marc Raibert, a former MIT professor who founded the MIT Leg Lab in the 1980s, to build running robots. Moreover, he is aiding Jindrich in investigating the effects of changing body inertia on the forces used in human maneuverability. “We seek to test a hypothesis that I developed in the form of a simple mathematical model,” says Jindrich, “that relates the forces required for maneuvers to a limited set of morphological (i.e. body shape) and behavioral parameters.”

“We will also be measuring velocity and acceleration/deceleration using a video system,” Brown says. The system uses infrared light to and reflective balls attached to the test subject to track the movements of the body. He adds, “We are also considering using EMGs to visualize which leg muscles are used in straight line running compared to turns.”

This project is pertinent in designing the next generation of functional electrical stimulation systems to help people with neuromotor injuries. Also, it benefits Brown as a kinesiology major to better understand the causes of injuries such as non-contact knee injuries.

In addition to his work in Jindrich’s lab, Brown is interested in research related to the social and neurological effects of addictions and works part-time at a local hospital. Yet, rest assured, when he is not astounding his professors at ASU, he enjoys spending his time outdoors hiking, camping or playing sports. Currently, he is also trying to learn to play the banjo and improve his talents for painting, drawing and writing.

“I think something that is interesting about me is that I have a wide range of interests,” he says. “I am willing to try almost anything twice.”

With the intent to pursue a doctorate degree after graduation, Brown will have a jump on his colleagues due to his impressive undergraduate research at ASU.