We're a little crazy, about science!

Finishing a project… maybe

Today is the day! Well, maybe today is the day, I’m hopeful though so let’s go with that. Today is the day I finish the analysis of the data I collected a while back for the experiment I wasn’t super thrilled about doing. The one I got an award for doing, funny enough (more). This project was a huge headache from the start, but I’m finally about to do the last bit of the work on the analysis and then all I have to do is write the paper. So let’s talk about what’s going on.

Well since I won that trainee highlight award I can talk more about the experiment I did, so finally I get to talk about some of the work I’ve been doing. The idea is simple, non-invasive spinal stimulation increases spinal motor networks and enables volitional movement in people with spinal cord injury. It’s all very cool and it works surprisingly well for something non-invasive, which oftentimes doesn’t do as nice a job as the more invasive versions. The question we set out to answer was, what the heck happens in the brain during this stimulation?!

The answer was no one looked. Seriously, we found one paper that took a look at brain activity during simulation and that was in epidural spinal stimulation for chronic pain subjects. Since we’re curious about what’s going on in the brain during stimulation in the spinal cord injury population, we need to first understand what happens in the brain in neurologically intact populations. That was the experiment we did and we found some surprisingly cool stuff.

We already knew that spinal evoked potentials were a thing, but we didn’t understand what would happen in the brain during continuous stimulation so we used both 15 Hz and 30 Hz stimulation, the two stimulation frequencies that are used in spinal stimulation while recording EEG activity. We ended up finding some really interesting responses in our subjects and that was how I won one of the BRAIN initiative’s trainee highlight awards.

However, we haven’t published any of this yet because we needed to finish the analysis. The last bit of the analysis has been difficult because almost all the code that was written for this project was custom stuff I came up with because the software that does the analysis for me requires the data in particular formats and the steps in-between the output are hidden to the user, both problems for me since I wanted to change certain things about the output that I couldn’t do in the software.

All that turned into a snowball effect, doing one step by hand meant doing another, then another, then finally I was doing everything by hand, programming code, debugging code, and making sure the math made sense, all by hand. It has been the biggest pain I’ve ever had to deal with. Do you know how hard it is to try to remove simulation artifacts from EEG data? It’s impossible, or maybe not impossible, just very difficult. No matter what I did we couldn’t completely clean the data so we had to look at the “stuff” between the stimulus artifacts, at 30 Hz there was ~33 ms between pulses, so not a big window to see what the response looks like.

Long story short, I’ve done it all. The other day I had a breakthrough (here) and so the last roadblock to finishing this torturously long process is about to be complete! All I need to do is run the data through the whole process (I’ve run a portion to verify it works and it does), then I need to make the plots for the results. That’s what the plan is for today. Once done I can turn my attention to writing the paper and my main-PI wants me to have a finished rough draft for editing by the end of the month. It’s a tight deadline and I have one other first author paper that my Co-PI wants me to finish by the end of the month as well, so as usual competing deadlines.

The plan for the weekend is to finish this analysis and get the plots started (hopefully finished) this weekend so I can bounce between the work for my main-PI and my Co-PI. There are some other things going on right now that I’m dealing with that will slow me down. Namely my laptop issues, which have finally been dealt… maybe, with by getting a replacement from the company. Setting up a new laptop takes forever and reinstalling everything that I need on the replacement laptop will take a full day or more to get right. So the weekend won’t be as relaxing as I was hoping, but it should be productive at least… maybe.

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