Pann Nwe '17 on Public Health and Lab Research

January 20, 2016

Pann Nwe

We talked with Pann Nwe '17 about mechanoreceptors, mice, and preparing to make a difference.

What is your primary role in David Ginty's lab at Harvard Medical School?

I work as an undergraduate research assistant/researcher at Dr. David Ginty’s lab at Harvard Medical School. At the beginning of [the first] semester, I was mainly assisting my two supervisors by preparing solutions and performing general lab chores. A few months later, I was given several individual projects and was hired full-time for two summers. I was able to successfully present two of my neurobiology projects under the intense pressure of Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholars as the audience. After two years, Dr. Ginty and my supervisor allowed me to publish in Cell journal with them because I was able to advance previous lab techniques and speed up their experiments and data collections to a high level with minimal supervision, ultimately backing up [hypotheses] with results.

How did you find the position? What was the interview process like, and how has Simmons prepared you for research work?

It was first semester of my freshman year when I found the research assistant position through the Simmons College CA$H website. The interview process took place in the neurobiology lab and I nervously went to the interview with my lab notebook, lab coat, and goggles in my bag because Professor Berger at Simmons told his students to never enter a lab without that gear.

My biology and chemistry professors at Simmons have taught me to always emphasize accuracy and precision while conducting lab work, minimizing errors and maximiz[ing] the overall efficiency as well as the result yield. Ultimately, this prepared me as an ideal candidate for this job and the interview process was smooth, even though I had two interviewers interviewing me at the same time. I ended up working for both of them.

You were co­-published on the article "Genetic Identification of an Expansive Mechanoreceptor Sensitive to Skin Stroking" in the journal Cell. Could you share with us the major findings of the paper and what this sort of research could lead to in the future?

Our research utilizes mouse genetics to characterize mechanoreceptors that are essential in providing information about touch, pressure, vibration, and cutaneous tension. The article we recently published genetically identifies the least ­understood mechanoreceptor. Specifically, we researched circumferential endings associated with hair follicles, as their properties have not been reported and it was first described nearly 50 years ago in the cat by Burgess and colleagues. In vivo recordings, we found that those circumferential nerve endings are low-threshold mechanoreceptors, also known as Aβ field-­LTMRs, that are uniquely responsive to gentle stroking of the skin, but unresponsive to hair deflection and less sensitive to skin indentation.

For future work, we will further explore how Aβ field­-LTMRs contribute to tactile perception and [look at] their involvement with the postsynaptic partners. Since LTMR neurons play a crucial role in the pathophysiology of multiple chronic pain syndromes linked to neuropathic pain and allodynia, understanding these LTMR subtype activities would lead to potential ways to inhibit neuropathic pain.

What has surprised you most about working in the lab?

I never thought I would be working in a lab with mice. Not only [was I] surprised that I was able to handle mice alone, but also [that I was] able to contribute and have a big impact on neurobiology research that could ultimately improve the quality of life.

What do you hope to do with your degree after leaving Simmons College?

After the completion of my degree in public health, I aspire to pursue an MPH and DrPH. I want to use my advanced degree and travel back to Myanmar, a country consistently ranking the lowest in health care, to implement comprehensive health care services and develop new ways to tackle public health issues with the knowledge I’ve gained throughout the years.

What advice would you give to other young women interested in lab research?

Attend career fairs and science symposiums for research opportunities. I would strongly encourage young women to apply for REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) Summer Programs and explore lab positions on the Simmons Ca$h website.