(Edmonton) "Pain-in-a-dish" is what Patrick Stemkowski calls his current research experiment.
Stemkowski, a PhD student at the Centre for Neuroscience in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, focuses his research on how sensory nerves change after a traumatic incident; specifically, how neuropathic pain results from injury to the nervous system. He looks at the first contact between the traumatic incident and the nerve, where he believes pain is triggered by inflammation. During massive tissue injury, the immune system and inflammatory response kicks in to heal the body and recover from the injury.
Instead of using a human subject, Stemkowski uses artificial environments to test his theories on neuropathic pain. "What I do is apply inflammatory mediators in a dish with sensory neurons, which are building blocks of the sensory nerves, and we can see if the hypothesis is valid," said Stemkowski.
Stemkowski's research, along with his past contributions, was recognized when he was awarded the Lionel E. McLeod Health Research Scholarship awarded through Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions earlier this month. This distinguished award is presented to an outstanding student at the universities of Alberta, Calgary and British Columbia.
Stemkowski will use his $21,500 stipend to continue his research and look into hyper-reactive nerves that contribute to the constant sensation of feeling pain, even after a wound has healed.
The accomplished researcher credits this award to his diverse experiences outside medicine. After graduating from the University of Alberta with a pharmacology degree more than a decade ago, Stemkowski followed his passion in music and produced three albums with two different bands. Running short on funds, he took a job in the Department of Pharmacology in hopes of refueling his musical lifestyle.
After running out of ways to reinvent his two bands, Stemkowski dove deeper into his research and wrote his first paper in his first year.
"Patrick's receipt of the Lionel E. McLeod award will draw attention to the increasing interest in basic and clinical pain research in the province and will serve to attract additional outstanding students to the graduate and post-doctoral programs offered by the Centre for Neuroscience," said Peter Smith, professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, who first hired Stemkowski at a lab technician and introduced him to pain medicine research.
"Winning this award is a great confidence booster," which Stemkowski says confirms his career choice.
The award is named after Lionel E. McLeod, the founding president of Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. McLeod was the head of endocrinology at the University of Alberta, dean of medicine at the University of Calgary, president of AHFMR and president and chief executive officer of the University Hospital in Vancouver.