Campus Life - Kamloops  

Biology Research: Q & A with Nathan Michaels

Nathan Michaels

UREAP researcher Nathan Michaels, BSc ’14

Meet Nathan Michaels, a Bachelor of Science graduate (2014) who majored in General Biology. The Newsroom asked Nathan about his research project on spinal cord injury, conducted through TRU’s Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP).

TRU: Your project is titled, “An Investigation Into Which Cells Contribute to Repair After a Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury.” Boil it down for us.

NM: The goal of my research is to better understand how a subset of cells in the brain and spinal cord, PDGFRa-positive cells, respond and contribute to repair after a contusion spinal cord injury.

PDGFRa-positive cells have been shown to give rise to the cells in the central nervous system that help insulate (myelinate) axons, or nerve fibres, which transmit electrical impulses between different regions in the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body. These cells can form multiple different cell types and play many different roles. However, one particular type formed from PDGFRa-positive cells, oligodendrocytes, provide insulation (myelination) aiding in the conduction of these signals.

Remyelination is the re-insulating of axons after the insulation has been lost. The roles of PDGFRa-positive cells in remyelination after a traumatic spinal cord injury have not been definitively described.

Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath

Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath

TRU: What attracted you to doing this research?

NM: I particularly enjoy application-based science like remyelination work. It is applicable not only to functional recovery in spinal cord injury, but also other conditions like stroke and multiple sclerosis.

I was drawn to working at the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) to gain an inside understanding of how this type of research is performed. Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff is a great and well-known scientist in the spinal cord injury field. I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to interact with, and learn from, the scientists and students in his lab.

TRU: How has your Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP) grant helped you get into doing research?

NM: The UREAP grant provided me with the means to work in conjunction with ICORD and UBC in Dr. Tetzlaff’s lab in Vancouver. There is a great group of people working in his lab and their support and passion for science made it a great experience.

“I love the creativity involved in planning experiments and attempting to unbiasedly observe natural phenomenon.” —Nathan Michaels

TRU: Will your project lead to a presentation or publishing opportunity?

NM: Potentially both.

TRU: What do you love about research?

NM: I love the creativity involved in planning experiments and attempting to unbiasedly observe natural phenomenon. The number of variables in play at one time makes even the seemingly simplest things incredibly complex. I enjoy observing how scientists isolate those variables.

TRU: Who in your field do you admire and why?

NM: I of course admire Dr. Tetzlaff. Having had the pleasure to see how he works, get his feedback, and observe how he interprets other experiments in the field gave me an appreciation for what it means to be a good scientist.

TRU: What impact do you hope your research will have?

NM: Remyelination has been shown to be an effective strategy for increasing the functional recoveries observed after spinal cord injury. I hope the deeper understanding of the particular type of cells we were looking at will provide a direction for future researchers and clinicians to look when developing future therapies involving remyelination.

Nathan is now a doctoral student at the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary.

Illustration: “Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath“, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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