IWU student begins research in spinal cord stimulation

Saylor Williams

Caption: Neal George is a sophomore Neuroscience major at IWU.
Credit: Neal George via Facebook

Neal George is a sophomore conducting faculty research with Dr. Joe Williams in the field of neuroscience. 

Within the first few months of his time at Illinois Wesleyan, George knew that he wanted to conduct research. 

George was eager to get working in a laboratory and tackle a research project.  

Dr. Williams and George’s research studies the effects of spinal cord stimulation in a rat model of neuropathic pain. 

Neuropathic pain is caused by damage or disease affecting the somatosensory nervous system and can be unresponsive to current treatment. 

If neuropathic pain is left untreated, it can impact the immune system by causing an inflammatory response, disrupted synapses, and cellular interactions. 

Previous research has shown that spinal cord stimulation could be an effective treatment for neuropathic pain. 

Spinal cord stimulation is when an implantation device sends low levels of electricity directly to the spinal cord to relieve pain. 

The stimulation relieves pain by sending electrical signals for glial and neurons to balance their interactions. 

The purpose of George’s research is to investigate to see if spinal cord stimulation alleviates neuropathic pain and could be an effective form of treatment. 

George ran experiments on rats in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial to test his hypothesis. 

Once the results from the double-blind placebo-controlled trials are collected and analyzed, further research can be done by sequencing RNA from the spinal cord that was exposed to spinal cord stimulation. 

Sequencing the RNA can determine changes in gene expression and if the spinal cord stimulation was an effective form of treatment. 

Understanding the effects of spinal cord stimulation in rats would provide a baseline understanding of how the treatment would impact humans. 

Without George’s research, it would be hard to know if spinal cord stimulation could be an effective treatment for humans. 

“Without George’s research, it would be hard to know if spinal cord stimulation could be an effective treatment for humans.” 

Little is known about why neuropathic pain doesn’t respond to most treatments making it difficult to research. 

The little known about neuropathic pain was one aspect of the research that intrigued George.

Researching something that isn’t well understood requires countless experiments, perfecting procedures, and patience. 

George knew his research would be difficult but would push him to be a stronger scientist. 

He is thankful to work alongside a professor who guides him through the process but allows him to work independently in the lab. 

The support of his professors reminds him that even with many mysteries to be solved in neuroscience, with hard work and thinking outside the box, he is up for the challenge.