University of Calgary

PURE awards

August 31, 2010

Summertime and the undergraduate researcher: part four of five

Health science student, HoMyung Lee spent his summer researching methods to predict epileptic attacks.Health science student, HoMyung Lee, spent his summer researching methods to predict epileptic attacks.From threats to undergraduate's social identity to earlier predictions of epileptic attacks, the PURE (Program for Undergraduate Research Experience) awards foster genuine research interests at the undergraduate level and provide practical financial support for the experience.

Out of the 250 applicants, 62 students received financial support for their 8, 12 or 16-week summer projects in 2010. These students also received the support and supervision of professors with related research interests.

The PURE awards are supported by the Office of the Provost and the Teaching and Learning Funding Committee, who promote the university’s commitment to teaching and learning. Since the program’s inception in 2008, 180 undergraduates have received PURE awards.

HoMyung Lee, a Bachelor of Health Sciences program student at the University of Calgary, is doing his summer research on epilepsy, a neurological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.

An epileptic clinical research assistant at the Foothills Medical Centre, Lee’s research focuses on how to significantly improve the quality of life for those who suffer from the disorder. About 30 percent of those with epilepsy cannot control their seizures with medication, which makes epilepsy therapy difficult. There is increasing evidence that physiological changes can be used to predict oncoming seizures and the goal of Lee’s research is to define the pre-ictal state in order to find the biomarker that can be used to predict seizures.

When asked why he chose epilepsy, Lee’s answer is obvious. It was the unknown in the understanding of the mechanisms behind seizures that attracted him to the field. “The brain is an organ we have barely scratched the surface on and there are many more discoveries to be made,” says Lee.

The research involves a technique called near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), which is used to measure oxy- and deoxy- hemoglobin concentration. Lee says by improving predictability, epileptic patients can be warned of an oncoming seizure several minutes before it occurs, allowing them to find a safe place to wait it out or to take their medication. The ultimate goal is to develop an implanted device that could automatically deliver a dose or electrical stimulation directly to the seizure focus.

Lee plans to continue his interest in the mechanics of the brain and epilepsy while studying to complete his Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, majoring in bioinformatics.

Read part one: Autumn Whiteway

Read part two: Emily Marasco

Read part three: Madelynn Matthews

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