We're a little crazy, about science!

My Research

Effects of transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation on the brain

Experimental setup (explained in detail below)

Transcutaneous spinal stimulation (TSS) is a relatively new approach to neuromodulation. We can activate networks in the spinal cord by injecting a small amount of current through the skin, which evokes a response in the muscles (muscle contraction). Depending on the person the electrical stimulus (the zappy time) feels either like a massage or it can be uncomfortable, not exactly painful, just not something you would go out of your way for. But the spinal cord is a two way street, so what does TSS do in the brain?

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Success! Journal paper 4 of 4

I’ve been waiting for this day for years, but here we are. The fourth and final paper, what I’m calling “last paper” has been accepted for publication as of this morning! It’s been a long, hard journey and this paper didn’t make anything easier, but it’s almost over. It just needs to go to typesetting and that will be the last of last paper. As with the others, it’s time to look back and the journey last paper took and how I finally got here.

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Data mountain

Well the week is over and I’ve barely been able to drag myself out of bed it’s been so exhausting. Unfortunately, we’re doing it all again next week too, so it’s not over yet. But the first of two test experiments are done, I say test because these don’t actually count toward our original set of experiments we’re doing later this summer. Meaning there’s going to be a lot of work coming my way, fun times.

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More on experimental prep

I kind of wish my equipment looked this cool…

Since we have a rather large and cumbersome set of experiments happening it’s my job to make sure they go off without too much trouble. I say too much trouble because no matter how much you plan, test, and retest, something will go wrong. Heck it may not even be wrong on our end, it may be wrong on someone else’s side, but that’s why we plan. So once again I’m talking about how we prep for our experiments.

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Making greatness

I do love making… new friends.

If you build it, they will come? Okay not quite, but if you can buy it you need to make it. That seems to be the theme for the next few weeks as we’re getting ready to start several different experiments and the scope of them is massive. Not so much the experiments themselves, but everything that is going into them and everything we are going to get out of them.

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Adventures in experimental design

When did people start trusting me with experimental design? I have no idea, but here we are and I’m helping come up with a series of experiments we will be doing in roughly one week… seven days. So between now and then, we have a lot of things to figure out. We have a rough idea about what will happen, but there are a lot of moving parts and it turns out we are probably missing a few things so we’re going to have to get creative if we really want to get to the bottom of things… fun times for all!

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Robot paper is live!

sad beat up old retro robot on a wooden floor shot from above
sad beat up old retro robot on a wooden floor shot from above

Finally! After years and years of trying to get this published I finally have the paper out in the world. Okay, to be fair it was accepted about a month ago and I did a deep dive into the paper itself (here), but it feels a little more official now that it’s out there in the wild, or at least open-access like it should be! Granted I’ve told this story before, but indulge me as I recount for the final time why this paper almost killed me, literally.

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Mounting pressure

After yesterday’s win, you would think things would be smooth sailing, but alas that isn’t in the cards! I mean yesterday’s good news still applies thankfully, but wow did I wake up to a flurry of emails and now a mountain of work that all needs to be addressed all at the same time. Wait, is there an echo in here? I feel like we’ve done this before…

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A big result

night scene showing young boy with a little moon in his hands sitting on meadow done digitally
night scene showing young boy with a little moon in his hands sitting on meadow done digitally

I’m stepping away from my planned sharing of the notes from my lecture to bring breaking news! For those who don’t understand what’s going on, a while ago I had an idea, a “big idea” that I’m convinced will be the thing I’m known for… if it works. And our first attempt was not great. In fact, we got absolutely nothing. The second and third attempts however we were ready and it looked like we had something. The question is what did we have?

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From imagination to reality

It’s amazing what a good night of sleep will do for a person. Hopital-PI often has what he calls his “shower ideas” and frankly, my “big idea” was also a shower idea, but I find that the best ideas come to me when you’re not even thinking about them. When you step away from a problem and focus on something else, your brain just does something magical and works out the solution without you even realizing it, sometimes anyway.

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Finalizing the figures

Okay technically they are videos, not figures, but they are demonstrating things that could be shown in figure format if we had the space. In fact, we do have one figure in the paper I’m dealing with that has stills from the video demonstrating some of the things we found. With the finalization of the response for “last paper” I need to sit down and get the code fixed to redo some of these videos, which will be a challenge.

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Semi-final paper edits

Okay, with all the “big” things happening the past few days I really need to switch gears and focus on the other major deadline I’ve got coming up and that’s the response to “last paper,” which is still not due for another 2-3 weeks I believe so I still have time, but it’s not just me that needs to sign off on it, it’s all my collaborators and that is the problem. Mostly because last paper took so long in part due to disagreements within our group.

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The big payoff

Yesterday I finally had the chance to get not one, but two new datasets! Those datasets were for a project I’m calling “big idea.” In my mind, it will change the way a lot of things are done, advance science, and I even joked with hospital-PI that I would need to retire after we publish because I’ll never do anything better. I have a lot of hope for big idea, but the first dataset we got was a fail, so the question was, what happened and did we fix it?

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The big data haul

It’s been one hell of a week and it’s only Monday. Experiment days are always hard, but when you’re doing multiple experiments in one day in, let’s say not so ideal situations, it can be hard. But we’ve made it out the other side! Unfortunately, just because the experiment is over, doesn’t mean things get any easier. At least in this case, because now comes the hard part.

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Another big experiment!

Things have been off to a rocky start for my “big idea” there’s a lot of moving parts, people to coordinate with, and things to manage. It’s no surprise things haven’t gone well since we started trying to get this project off the ground, but we’re still trying and that has to count for something… right? As it turns out, we may have lucked out this next week!

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The next big experiment

Well things are moving fast around here, like I predicted they would this year. Of course, things are currently going better than I had hoped, but that could change. Last week was a busy one and next week will be no different, but next week is a particularly big week, because I’m going to be doing another experiment for a somewhat different project. Yep, another “big idea” experiment is coming.

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The last paper response

Well it’s been a few weeks since I got the response back for “last paper” since I have roughly three weeks left to finalize all the edits they requested, this weekend I plan on tackling most/all of it so that we can get the ball rolling with my collaborators so I can (hopefully) get the response back to the editors before the deadline they set. Because there is a deadline and I do not want to be late, mostly because it will make more work for me if I am.

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When DARPA calls

Fifteen years. It’s been roughly fifteen years since I started this journey and the dream was always the same. We all have stupid dreams as a kid, we want to be astronauts and sports stars, but the odds aren’t in our favor. We’re told to be realistic. Sorry kid, your dreams are too big. You need to shrink yourself to fit into the tiny box we as a society provide you. I was never good at following instructions, so maybe that’s why the past fifteen years have been a special kind of hell, but today, today made it all worth it.

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The return of last paper

If you love something set it free, if it comes back it was meant to be. What a bunch of garbage. Well maybe just in this case. I’ve slowly gotten out from under the weight of not one, but four different first author journal papers I’ve been working on. Three of the four are published (with one going live any day now… I think?! That should’ve happened a week ago…), but one paper, last paper, has been a struggle all its own and now it’s back with a vengeance.

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An ounce of preparation

What a week. It’s only Wednesday and it feels like it’s just never going to end. There are three major events coming up this week, meaning I will be working this weekend unfortunately, but at least I made it through the day. Tomorrow will be a major event for me, dare I say bigger than my proposal defense just two days away.

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The return of big idea

I had hoped to discuss robot paper today, but something more exciting has happened so today we’re talking about the “big idea’ I had a while back. It feels like it’s been forever since I had the idea, but things were moving slowly lately so we’ve had to wait. I’m happy to say the wait is finally over! If all goes well, by the end of the week I’ll have the first dataset from big idea and I am very excited!

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New and old projects

It’s finally my chance to put my own spin on the stuff coming out of the hospital lab and I’m incredibly excited about what is coming. Unfortunately I can’t talk about it! However, I’m hopeful that this year will be an excellent year for me with regards to the research I’m doing. Things are slowly falling into place and while we’re still at the beginning, things are looking bright.

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The big rush

A while ago I had an idea, a “big idea,” but the second I had that idea the clock was ticking. Because ideas are not that unique. There is a gap in research and we try to fill that gap when we see it. I noticed a gap and because I noticed it, there’s no reason others won’t notice it as well. Now we’re in an unseen race to publish and there’s still some speed bumps in the way that are causing some issues. I’m hopeful we can get there first, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had competition.

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On the shoulders of giants

Tomorrow I’m doing something for the first time, ever. I got an email yesterday with the good news and while we don’t have all the equipment we need for the project, we can still get some good data and an early look at what the data will look like. I’m so excited I’m shaking, I barely slept last night, and my mind is swimming with the possibilities. This is what it’s like doing research on the edge.

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The first one

Ever look up an answer in the back of the book? The problem with research is there’s no back of the book, but typically when you do an experiment you can at least glance at research surrounding your work and make sure you’re not going completely off the rails. Because I like to make my life unbelievably difficult, and because I don’t like taking small steps forward, I’m going to (hopefully) be the first to do a few things this year. But it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

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And then DARPA appeared…

DARPA and I go way back. Right after I got out of the military back to be exact. Not that more than one or two people even know my name (and probably only vaguely), but DARPA is the reason I’m where I am today, even if the people who helped me get here don’t remember me. As much as I love the DARPA origin story, that’s all it’s ever been, that is until today, when school-PI let me know that DARPA was paying attention.

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The PhD dissertation proposal

Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person
Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person

Well we’ve finally arrived, for real this time, to my proposal timeframe. There are a lot of things that need to happen between now and when I defend my proposal, but thankfully most of those things are started or almost finished. The one thing that isn’t started… well that would be my actual proposal. Be not afraid! I’m going to have the draft done today, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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The final days of the “last paper”

Well I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I have some big news! As promised in the last, last paper update, I wasn’t going to talk about it until we had submitted the paper for review. Well as of today, last paper is FINALLY in review! Now this could be months before we get it actually published and maybe even longer if there is several rounds to the edits, but this is a big step.

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The final push of “last paper”

Amid all the chaos that the lab visitor we had yesterday caused I wouldn’t blame the causal reader if you thought that the robot project was my only focus. Hospital-PI summed it up best when he said we’re all working on roughly four projects at any given time and I responded with, “you guys are only working on four?” Don’t get me wrong, I like it this way.

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Return of the “technique”

splatter color brain
splatter color brain

With all the excitement around here with the progress made towards making “big idea” a reality, you may think that I’ve forgotten about other projects and things I’m working on. That isn’t the case and I have other exciting updates regarding something I’ve been calling my “super secret technique” not the most descriptive name, but that’s sort of the point. It’s not “big idea,” but is sure isn’t a tiny idea either.

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The big pitch

Today was the day we pitched a proposal to two of the doctors that can help make my “big idea” a reality. It did not go anything like I planned, some of what happened was funny, some of it was horrific, but mostly it went how it needed to go. Things never go as you plan them, but this was just completely off the rails.

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A big meeting

Well I’m excited, tired but excited. It’s been a long week and that is partly because I have a meeting tomorrow to discuss a project that will be a big help in my PhD, but also a really cool project in general. We also have a second big meeting next week with some guests coming to see the research side of the hospital, so yeah busy!

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The last paper updates

Well things are moving fast. So fast I haven’t had a break. Since I have a free moment, and I really do mean moment, we might as well go for the low hanging fruit and update on the “last” paper. This paper has been in the works for years (literally years) now and we’re finally coming to a close in the chapter. At least that’s how it appears. There’s still some rough sailing ahead, but I think we’ve finally made it…. maybe.

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The last paper

Kind of a misnomer since this is definitely not THE last paper, but it’s paper four of four. The fourth paper in my roadblock of papers where things were coming in, but for whatever reason nothing was moving forward. Now with two of the four published and one in review again after a request for edits, I’m assuming it will be accepted (sooooon!). That leaves me with exactly one paper left and there are finally updates.

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The robot resubmission

Fact: robots who don’t get published often turn to a life of crime.

Sometimes life comes at you fast, other times you’re writing a paper and four years later you’re still looking to publish it. Publishing can be like that and while I’m not the only one with this type of story, I do believe we’re finally coming to an end of the robot paper saga. I’m really hoping I don’t have a whole ass PhD before this thing gets published, that would just be awkward.

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Robot rush

Not my robot, but I figure we’re tired of seeing the same few photos of mine.

Well we’re just a few days away from robot paper deadline and there’s still some work to be done! While robot-PI is still editing the paper, I had an unfortunate realization with some of the work I had done that requires me to go in and fix a few things. So once again, I’m doing things as hard as possible.

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The week ahead

Every once and awhile I like to highlight what kind of stuff I’m working on during the week and since there are a lot of things going on and none of them would make a very “full” post on their own, I think it would be best to group it all together and look ahead because there are some very interesting things happening this week!

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The robot paper response

Yesterday due partly to the house work I was having done, I got none of the data processed I needed to do, but I had a chance to address some of the comments I got from the reviewers on “robot paper.” The response is due in just a few days and one reviewer was very thorough with their feedback, so there’s a lot to address and not a lot of time to get it done. The good news is ~94% of the comments are addressed, the only bad news is that it isn’t 100%.

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The IRB response

That was fast. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back from the IRB so quickly, but here we are and I have a bit of work to do. Technically we didn’t get the IRB reviewed yet, it’s only been “pre-reviewed,” but pre-review helps speed things up when the IRB meet next (in about a month) to look over the application. Since we were asked to make some modifications, this should help bring our IRB application up to standard before the IRB actually review it.

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Back to back OR experiments

I’ve had one other instance where we had two OR experiments in a single day and that was exhausting. Thankfully we had a break in the middle so that I could get everything cleaned and prepped for the next time. Unfortunately I’ve just been made aware that next week we get to try things on hard mode next week.

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Back in the OR

Oh man, I haven’t been in the OR since last year! Okay we’re only a few days into the new year, but it does feel like it’s been a bit with the holidays. That’s going to change though because tomorrow is our first OR experiment of the year. And with the new year, we have some new changes to the experiment that we’ll be trying since we’ve had over a half dozen attempts to do this right with somewhat mixed success.

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Another new project!

When I think of science, for some reason exploration comes to mind. Hence the picture for today.

In the spirit of making things as hard as I possibly can for myself I’ve gotten a new project to work on from hospital-PI. This was a known thing, but it does (mildly) clash with the idea I recently had. Since I cannot share the idea I had, we can instead talk about this project a bit and why the two will be at odds. I also have a fun update on the big idea project I came up with so I’m shoehorning it in with this post since it’s semi-related.

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Return of the robot paper

Logically I knew I would get a response sooner or later, I mean you submit something to a journal and you’re going to get a response. Even if it’s just a screw you, you hack. Can you tell I’ve already had several of those? Well yesterday I finally got the email about the paper I wrote on the work I did in my Masters degree days, which feels like a very long time ago now that I’m almost done with my PhD. The news is good, but I’m going to be cautious.

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Real-time seizure state tracking

Since I shared one of the papers I was super proud of, I figure I can share the other one as well. Like the last paper (here) I’ll explain the concept and why this paper was important. I’ll also talk about why I think it was cool and where the idea came from. Mostly this post is for people who are interested in the work, but may not be familiar with the technical aspects so I’ll try to avoid technical terms or I will provide an explanation when needed.

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The first steps to my proposal

I said this year was going to be a ride and I meant it. We’re four days into the new year and I’ve just heard back from school-PI that I’m good to submit my IRB. Since that may sound like gibberish to the non-academic and because I like to make things accessible, today I’ll explain what an IRB is, why it’s important, and why having one is somewhere between a small step and a giant leap to my PhD.

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Another OR experiment

Time to dust off my scrubs, it’s back to work for me. In fact, I have been so busy with other things I don’t think I mentioned it, but today is yet another OR experiment. With how well the previous two went, I’m hopeful that this one will go well, but a somewhat alarming email from hospital-PI yesterday may throw a wrench into any plans I had.

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OR experiments, the aftermath

The good news is we have data! Lots of data, more data than you could shake a stick at, although I don’t know why you would shake a stick at anything… That’s beside the point(ed stick) though! Yesterday was not one, but two OR experiments and I have to say surgeon-PI must be in way better shape than he appears because both hospital-PI and I are exhausted!

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Interrogation of spinal networks during movement preparation using transcutaneous spinal stimulation

Rundown of the experiment (A) shows where we stimulated and what muscles we recorded from. (B) is our experimental protocol that we used. We had an auditory cue, a tactile cue (a small electrical stimulation of the foot, which causes a slight tickle) and an isometric contraction task. (C) has examples of what the evoked potentials look like and it can be hard to read at first, but the far right has a very clear example (R1 is our first stimulus and R2 is the second). I don’t go into why we used 2 pulses, but there is a reason, it’s just a bit technical so outside the scope of this general review.

That’s not the name of the paper, but that’s the general idea. We tend to take movement for granted, I mean most of the time we do it without thinking. I don’t look down as I’m typing these words, yet my fingers know what to do to make it happen. Similarly, we don’t really think about balancing ourselves when we walk, we just do it. So if I’m not consciously thinking about every step I take when I walk down the street, who, or what is keeping me going?

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The path moving forward

Pick your battles. After having a conversation with another student about their PhD plans and how soon they want to graduate, they offered that sometimes you need to pick your battles. I couldn’t agree more with that statement and when I met with school-PI a few days ago virtually to go over my big PhD plans I asked what I needed to do to finish. I needed to pick my battles.

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Double OR experiments!

It’s official, I just got not one, but two new participants for our study. This will be happening next week and the scary part is they are both on the same day, so it will be more than a full day in the OR, like 12 hours or so for the whole day. Not all of that time will be spent in the OR, thankfully. Every attempt we’ve had thus far in the OR has gotten better and better, so if the pattern holds, we should have some very good data after this next round of participants and I will have more data than I know what to do with.

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