By Robert W. Dalton
Robert Lamprecht ’22 thought his summer internship would have him spending a lot of time building computer hardware and developing software.
He was wrong. And he’s OK with that.
Lamprecht, a computer science major with a concentration in neuroscience from Moncks Corner, South Carolina, is one of 16 students from across the country selected for summer research programs at the University of Florida. Lamprecht is part of a team researching treatments for spinal cord injuries. The research focuses on respiratory issues associated with the injuries.
“This is a pilot study that has been going on for about two years,” Lamprecht says. “The hope is to use this for people with upper spinal cord injuries who struggle to breathe.”
The study involves treating rats that have lost most of the function of their right diaphragms due to a partial severing of the spinal cord. For about 20 hours each day, the rats receive epidural stimulation through electrodes connected to a neurochip implanted in the rats.
Lamprecht designed and used a 3D printer to create several parts for the neurochips, and he has written some custom programs to help with data collection. Still, the experience has been a lot less computer-science intensive than he anticipated.
Lamprecht is in the lab from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Each morning, he collects the data, resets the neurochips and returns the rats to their facilities.
“Every time the rat breathes, it stimulates the right side,” Lamprecht says. “The calibration is low, so there are no motor contractions and no pain.”
According to Lamprecht, the rats are awake during the process, which makes it easier to ensure that the animals aren’t in pain. At the end of the study, the rats will be taken off the stimulation. The team will continue to collect data for a week to determine whether the results last.
“We’re putting together the final bits of the pilot study right now,” Lamprecht says. “I’ll present my own research to professors at the end of summer.”
Lamprecht says the hands-on research has been good for him. The experience has helped him decide to continue his education after graduating from Wofford next spring.
“This experience told me that I’m on the right path,” he says.