PMHS senior Caitlin Wong was recently honored as one of just 300 scholars in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search for her research project titled “Assessing the Plasticity of Pain Through the Lens of People with Limb Loss.” This is the second straight year in which a PMHS science research student has achieved this award, which includes 1,964 applications received from 601 high schools in 48 states, two U.S. territories and eligible students living in seven other countries.
Caitlin and the Pelham Science Research program, taught by Steve Beltecas and Joe DiBello, were each awarded $2,000 as a result of her being named a Regeneron Scholar. Top 40 finalists will be announced later this month.
“It’s nice to feel like someone recognizes my research outside my field and that its actually had an impact on other people,” said Caitlin. “I’ve dedicated so much time to it, so it’s nice to feel that it actually made a difference.”
Her research looked into Phantom limb pain (PLP), a chronic condition that affects people with limb loss, causing pain where their limb was prior to amputation. Her complete abstract on her research follows:
“Pain is essential in protecting the body, yet it can be dangerous and debilitating if persistent. Many currently hypothesize that pain is subjective and is affected by context and perception of the person in pain, ultimately affecting their experience of pain. Phantom limb pain (PLP) is chronic pain where people with limb loss experience pain where their limb was prior to amputation. 80% of people with limb loss experience PLP, yet despite the prevalence, there is a lack of evidence supporting the basis for non-pharmacological treatments, even though said treatments have been used in clinics. My study aimed to address this gap in research by assessing PLP as related to sensation and cognition. I found a unique connection between PLP and both sensation and cognition, as compared to residual limb pain (RLP).
Through my study, I also created a new protocol for measuring sensation which may be validated and implemented in the future. Secondary analysis showed both that perception may impact the experience of PLP, and that left unaddressed, PLP will not decrease over 1-year, contrary to previous research. Overall, it is essential to further explore treatments for PLP, which is now feasible with my findings demonstrating the association between pain, sensation, and cognition.”
“I’m so proud of Caitlin, not only for being named a Regeneron scholar, but for her hard work and dedication over the years,” said Mr. Beltecas. “Our science research students pour in countless hours, during class, late nights, and over the summer and it is rewarding to see their work pay off.”
To conduct her research, which is three years in the making, Caitlin visited amputee support group meetings and developed relationships with those she who agreed to participate in her research. She is planning on returning to the support groups to share her results and gain further insights from the participants.
“I can’t express just how much those people have gone through,” said Caitlin. “Every time I went to those support group meetings, it was so moving to hear them talk about the things they had to go through and that they are still going through. So many of my subjects just inspired me. A big part of that is their resilience.”
Caitlin, who is also an avid dancer and plays the clarinet, said she plans to continue research in college and hopes to gain experience in different areas of science.