WTHS students get to know the brain

Migraines, alcohol related headaches, and concussions were topics discussed by assembly speakers.

Nathan Fried, PhD; Meghan Mattson, ATC; Jessica Kempa, ATC; Krista Scardino-Welch; Colette Glatts; Megan Foster; Jennifer Monaco; Robert Bartosz, executive associate and director, finance, Thomas Jefferson University.

Washington Township High School AP Psychology students attended an assembly on pain and concussions last week, with presentations by neuroscientists and representatives from the Thomas Jefferson University Comprehensive Concussion Center.

Robert Bartosz, director of finance and business planning of Thomas Jefferson College of Biomedical Science, senior associate director of the Institute of Emerging Health Professions, and also a Washington Township resident, helped coordinate the event.

“This is a proud opportunity to link the great community where I live to the health science pipelines that I’m helping to build working at Thomas Jefferson University,” Bartosz said. “Our goal is to provide experiences for young people to learn more about the education and career opportunities available in the fields of medicine, health professions and biomedical research.”

“Neuroscience involves studying how the brain works, and the brain is who we are as individuals, who we are as human beings,” Nate Fried, a neurologist, said.

For his thesis in graduate school, Fried studied migraine triggers, circumstances that elicit a migraine attack in an individual, with a focus on the effect of alcohol and hangover headaches.

“We would use alcohol to figure out where the susceptibility is in the migraine brain so that we can find new ways to treat migraines,” Fried said.

According to Fried, migraines are the third most prevalent neurological disorder in the world, with 25 percent of all women and 8 percent of all men experiencing migraines in their life. Migraine symptoms can include, but are not limited to, sensitivity to light and touch, nausea and debilitating pain.

Fried said his research found that after four to six hours of being under the influence of alcohol, the rats studied were experiencing more pain sensitivity than when they began, simulating the pain of a hangover. When a chemical found in caffeine was introduced, the sensitivity to pain in that last four- to six-hour period was reduced.

“You can go from looking at triggers, something that causes a headache, and ask how does that cause a headache, how can we intervene, what is it working on, and then how can we make the big block-buster drug that’s going to cure everybody, which won’t happen for a long, long time,” Fried said.

Fried spoke to the students about how his decision to focus on pain in neuroscience came from experiences in his hometown, Riverside.

“Chronic pain is a huge health burden for the country, particularly for my hometown. It’s driving the opioid epidemic because really, the only treatment that we have for people in pain is opioids,” Fried said. “We don’t understand pain systems as well as we should, so we can’t treat patients in an effective way that is not addictive.”

Fried, a graduate from Jefferson University with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, is in his first year of postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

Colette Glatts, manager of the Jefferson Comprehensive Concussion Center’s business and research team, discussed the brain in regard to concussions and how they are diagnosed, managed and treated.

“When you have headaches or have a concussion, it can really alter your life and be something that’s difficult to deal with,” Glatts said.

Colleagues Meghan Mattson, manager of athletic training services, and Jessica Kempa, patient advocate, accompanied Glatts. Students were able to participate in exercises, testing their vision and ability to shift their eyesight from one target to another.

“When you say concussion, we’re talking mild-traumatic brain injury, and we don’t like the word mild, because it’s not mild. The susceptibility to injury is widespread, and for diagnosis of a concussion, we can’t see those changes right off the bat. We don’t know you have a concussion until you’re presenting it functionally in the office,” Glatts said. “When you think of how many injuries to your neurons and connections need to actually happen to see that deficit, it’s a lot, so it’s a big deal.”

Glatts also gave advice to students on possible career paths that are available after college with a degree in psychology. Glatts has an undergraduate degree in psychology and received her master’s degree in experimental psychology from Saint Joseph’s University.

“If any of you are looking to study psychology, a lot of professors will push you to get a Ph.D. and a career in academia, because a lot of times that’s where they came from, but there are a lot of options. I never in a million years would have thought I’d end up in marketing and then end up overseeing a research program for concussions by studying psychology,” Glatts said.

“It’s not just about memorizing the names of the various parts of the brain, but now understanding what all this means to them at a personal, human level if a family member, friend or even themselves suffer a concussion, migraine, brain injury, or disease,” Bartosz said. “Now by personally interacting with these medical professionals, they can begin to visualize futures for themselves in careers as medical healers or researchers.”