Clinical Research in the Brain

Emily Zhang, COL’25, Charlotte, North Carolina

My name is Emily Zhang and I am a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. I am majoring in Neuroscience, with a minor in Healthcare Management and Chemistry. This summer, I worked under the guidance of Dr. Shih-Shan Chen, an attending neurosurgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I was involved in two research projects assessing parental health literacy in pediatric patients receiving first time VPS for hydrocephalus treatment and the role and clinical relevance that cervical MRIs play in non-accidental trauma cases.

VPS (ventriculoperitoneal shunt) is a surgical procedure that is used to treat a condition called hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain. While VPS is considered a generally effective method used to treat hydrocephalus, there is a high shunt failure rate, ranging anywhere from 20% to 85% in the pediatric population. As such, it is of utmost importance for the parents/guardians of these patients to be informed on the shunt procedure and be able to recognize the signs of shunt failure. To assess the parental health literacy in patients who receive VPS, we developed a questionnaire containing a series of questions regarding the nature of the VPS, its purpose and signs of shunt failure and an educational PowerPoint containing the critical information that parents/guardians must know.

My role in this study was to enroll the parents/guardians of eligible patients using appropriate consent forms, explain the informational PowerPoint, and then assess parental health literacy using the questionnaire both before and after the informational PowerPoint. Ultimately, after reaching our target sample size, by analyzing level of parental health literacy before and after the informational PowerPoint, we can conclude whether the standard information regarding VPS given to the parents/guardians of patients needs to be improved.

My second research project aims to assess the role and clinical relevance of cervical MRIs in patients with non-accidental trauma. Most patients with non-accidental trauma receive cervical MRIs, however, the findings on cervical MRIs rarely are of clinical importance, with low rates of cervical surgical intervention observed. To understand the role that cervical MRIs play in the treatment plan of patients with non-accidental trauma, I am performing a comprehensive study of all eligible patients treated at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in approximately the past twenty years and analyzing factors such as patient history, presenting signs and symptoms, scan indications, and outcome.

My research experiences this summer has been critical to my exposure of patient care, clinical research, and study design. Enrolling patients and their families in research studies has taught me the intricate art of patient interaction, a skill that cannot be learned in any classroom or textbook. By taking on critical roles in clinical data collection, I have learned how to extract information from patient medical charts and interpret scans. As an undergraduate student, I am extremely new to the medical field, which forced me to first self-learn the necessary medical information and read through pertinent literature.

This research experience has not only taught me invaluable knowledge in clinical research, but also how to interact with patients and their families as well as how to comprehend scientific literature and create study designs. I am looking forward to seeing where these projects lead me.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services