Andy Lee

Andy Lee

Inspired from meeting a paraplegic patient during his volunteer work, Andy joined a study looking at a new technology that may help restore the ability to walk.

Andy Lee

B.Sc., University of Alberta

Grants received

Undergraduate grant in 2020

Tell us about yourself, Andy.

I was born in South Korea and lived there until I was eight years old, when I immigrated to Canada. Growing up, I was surrounded by wonderful people who encouraged me to be curious about pressing questions and pursue what was important to me. When I was 16, I volunteered as an in-patient visitor at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, Alberta. I met a patient with lymphoma who experienced paraplegia (paralyzed from the waist down) because of a tumour pressing on his spinal cord. The most memorable part of our interaction was his unwavering positivity, despite his medical circumstances.

That’s an impactful experience for a 16-year old. What did you take away from it?

That experience taught me that medicine is rooted in caring for people empathetically, along with caring for their bodies. Seeing my patient interact with hematologists, allied health professionals, and social workers inspired me to cultivate the expertise of my own to contribute to patient care. The patient had told me that the most challenging part of his paralysis was being unable to work, so I chose to explore how to break the chains of disability.

You received a Branch Out grant as an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta. What can you tell us about your study?

After my experience at the Cross Cancer Institute, I reached out to Dr. Vivian Mushwar to study a technology called intraspinal microstimulation, which focuses on helping patients with paraplegia to be able to walk again. This involves the implantation of microwires into the spinal cord below the place of injury to stimulate neural networks involved in movement of the legs.

With guidance, I learned how to conduct an extensive literature search, critically appraise the findings, and synthesize compelling arguments for conducting a study. These activities allowed me to appreciate evidence-based medicine, which directly affects patient care and medical advancements. After my literature research was complete, I was tasked with components of the wet lab such as utilizing the cryostat, handling animals, and measuring the gait cycle.

What did you take away from your first experience as a researcher?

I appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of my research, which required interactions with the fields of medicine, engineering, and neuroscience. The collaborative nature of medical practice draws me to the field, and I hope to one day deliver patient care as a clinical scientist.

I’ve also discovered that research is not a solo battle, but a collaborative effort. I networked with graduate students to build new connections, and learned how to reach out to my colleagues for help and, in return, support them in other tasks. This relationship continued when I wrote a research paper as a first author.

It’s quite the achievement for an undergraduate to publish a research paper!

I’ve been very lucky with all of the incredible support I’ve received that led to the paper. The Branch Out Neurological Foundation has been a stepping stone in both my personal and professional development.

I’d like to thank everyone who has been supporting this research and helping both the scientific community and my professional career.

Andy Lee has since received the Peter Lougheed Leadership Scholarship (worth $10,000) from the University of Alberta, which is recognized as one of the highest leadership awards. He has also been awarded the Outstanding Interdisciplinary Research Award at the Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (FURCA) at the University of Alberta out of 112 research.

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