Kaylen Beekman is spending her summer researching the effects of lesser-known cannabinoids on gut-inflammation. The fourth-year Neuroscience student acknowledges that there is a substantial knowledge gap on the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of lesser-known phytocannabinoids such as cannabichromene, cannabigerol, cannabidivarin, and cannabidiol.

Specifically, Kaylen is assessing whether these cannabinoids can alleviate gut inflammation and inflammatory pain in rodents. She is using the dextran sodium sulfate (DSS) model of inflammation in mice, evaluating how injections of the cannabinoids impacts inflammation, and measuring the results through colon length, tissue samples, and assessing the levels of non-inflammatory cytokines in the blood serum. Additionally, Kaylen is studying the levels of non-evoked and evoked pain in the rodents using facial feature analysis and thermal gradient platform tests. Immune and behavioural responses will be studied in both male and female mice.

Kaylen is conducting this project in Dr. Aaron Gruber’s Lab and says she has a personal attachment to the topic.

I have been raised in a family where conditions such as IBS, Crohn's disease, and depression were commonplace. As I was reviewing some of the research taking place in the Neuroscience department, I noticed Aaron Gruber was studying the brain-gut axis, specifically how conditions such as Crohn's disease may cause depressions and depression may cause Crohn's, turning into the vicious cycle I had witnessed for years. Within minutes of reading his research description I had sent him an email asking if I could take part in the research, and I've been with the lab since then!

She adds that the experience has been greatly valuable to her degree, noting that the skills she has learnt as a result of her research has far outdone the scope of her courses. Her work this summer is supported by an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award.

“It is a very exciting process—to be both learning about the brain through various courses, plus discovering new things about the brain through hands-on research.”

Learning how to do new things, particularly around animal care and research, brings Kaylen a new sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm each time she does experimental tasks. Procedures such as giving injections, running experiments, and aiding in surgeries may become mundane when done for several hours, but Kaylen says she enjoys these tasks. Learning how to be precise in her work is key for scientific discoveries, Kaylen notes, and she hopes to emulate this form of excellency in her future career.

Kaylen recommends that any student who is interested in becoming involved in research of their own just go for it.

If it looked like too much work, or if it looks too hard, or if you are scared of initiating it, still go for it. Everything ahead will always look too hard, and if it doesn't, you probably aren't growing. There will be people there to help you, and it will be so worth it.