Student Profile: Alex Turner

Undergraduate Alex Turner investigates the effects of a specific prostate cancer treatment on bladder function.

Majors: Neuroscience and Psychology

Mentor: Dr. Johanna Hannan

Department: Physiology

Project Title: “Impact of prostatic radiation on bladder innervation and neuronal apoptosis”

My research examines the effects of external beam radiation therapy – used to treat prostate cancer – on bladder function and innervation.

How did you get involved in undergraduate research?

I got involved with undergraduate research through my neuroscience research requirement. I thought it would be a good way to stand out against the competition when applying to medical school.

Why did you choose your research topic?

I found that the ability to look at the nerve structure of the bladder gave me a better understanding to how the parasympathetic nervous system works. I also learned about the effects of damage to the major pelvic ganglion, a collection of neuron cell bodies, and how that can cause serious problems for organ function.

What’s been your favorite part of conducting undergraduate research?

The self-taught part of researcher and having a deeper understanding for my subject has been my favorite part of undergraduate research. I love knowledge and this has given me the opportunity to see the medical field from a research stand point and not just clinically. It gives me new perspective on how hard researchers work and I have so much respect for everything they do.

What challenges have you faced while conducting undergraduate research?

The biggest challenges I’ve faced are trying to understand how the nerves work and taking on a more in-depth understanding of how everything pulls together to kind of form a story, like the effects of damage to the major pelvic ganglion.

Why is your research important for the average, everyday person?

Because I believe it gives people perspective to how many things that are in the medical field are actually discovered. I think it will give researchers more respect from the public and appreciation.

What’s your ultimate goal or accomplishment that you hope your research will help you achieve?

I hope that we can find some kind of way to lessen the effects of this kind of treatment and find some way to cause urinary incontinence (overactive bladder) to not be a side effect of external beam radiation therapy on the prostate.

How do you feel that participating in undergraduate research has helped prepare you for life after college?

I think it has definitely reinforced me to be more independent, more disciplined, and have a great appreciation for those who spend long hours in the lab.

Do you have any advice for other students interested in conducting undergraduate research?

I would definitely recommend doing it and find something that sparks your interest. The more you enjoy it the more you will be willing to put in the long hours to understand your work.