Samuel Ureña believes the precursor to regenerating damaged human neurons may be contained in the DNA of a humble, microscopic nematode worm called C. elegans.
Ureña’s research involves damaging the worms’ neurons by firing light into them from a laser. Ironically, the injury induces a process called lesion conditioning, which triggers neuronal regeneration. Ureña then painstakingly works to identify which genes in the nematodes’ genetics are involved in lesion conditioning and what other mechanisms are at play. Although this type of research is still in its infancy, he notes, it could have important implications for central nervous system injuries and diseases, which currently have no cure; treatment is only focused on symptom relief and preventing further harm.
After Ureña arrived at Northeastern, he was approached by Bioengineering Assistant Professor Samuel Chung to join his NeuroLab, located in the new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. Although the lab’s focus and innovative optic tools were new to Ureña, he was intrigued. He said he loves the work. “It’s exciting research, and I get to shoot lasers, which is really cool,” he jokes.
Ureña, who grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, appreciates the diverse opportunities in the bioengineering field that Boston offers, and he hopes to land a summer internship at a company or national laboratory in the area to explore different avenues in his career.