[Social9_Share]

Doctoral student researches epilepsy-related deaths

IOWA CITY — At age 12, on the cusp of becoming a teen with a cellphone and ambitions of an increasingly independent existence full of friends, freedom and PG-13 movies, Alex Petrucci one morning climbed into the back seat of her family vehicle and found herself transported to a new reality instead of going to school.

“I woke up on the floor of the garage and paramedics were taking me away,” Petrucci, a now 29-year-old University of Iowa doctoral student, told The Gazette about the morning she had her first seizure while in middle school in Austin, Texas.

“Imagine how horrifying that is to be on the cusp of feeling like you’re an ‘adult’ and you can handle yourself to suddenly developing a chronic illness that makes everybody hover,” she said.

Tests revealed Petrucci had developed rolandic epilepsy — a benign pediatric disorder she managed for years with medicine before eventually outgrowing it. At least for a while, though, it hindered her.

“I couldn’t even use the bathroom alone, teachers would have another student follow me to the restroom,” she said, recalling being afraid to get her driver’s license until age 18. “So I was later than everybody else because I was scared of what would happen.”

Fast forward a decade, and what once confined Petrucci now compels her as a fall 2022 UI graduate with a newly-minted Ph.D. in neuroscience with plans to continue her epilepsy research as a postdoctoral student at the University of Utah.

She has “single-handedly advanced the use of several powerful techniques in our lab,” according to her mentor, Gordon Buchanan, a UI epilepsy professor and associate professor of neurology. “She is well on her way to making research advances to positively affect the lives of patients with epilepsy.”

Finding her path

Petrucci’s passion evolved out of her pursuit six years ago for connection in an unfamiliar state she’d never visited before applying to UI’s neuroscience program. Once in Iowa City, still unsure of what specifically she would study, Petrucci began volunteering with the local Epilepsy Foundation chapter and found herself at a conference where Buchanan was speaking.

He was presenting on “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy” — a subject that both fascinated and frightened her — and how UI researchers were studying the condition using animal models. As interested as Petrucci was, she needed prodding to jump in his path and introduce herself that day.

Tests revealed Petrucci had developed rolandic epilepsy — a benign pediatric disorder she managed for years with medicine before eventually outgrowing it. At least for a while, though, it hindered her.

“I couldn’t even use the bathroom alone, teachers would have another student follow me to the restroom,” she said, recalling being afraid to get her driver’s license until age 18. “So I was later than everybody else because I was scared of what would happen.”

Fast forward a decade, and what once confined Petrucci now compels her as a fall 2022 UI graduate with a newly-minted Ph.D. in neuroscience with plans to continue her epilepsy research as a postdoctoral student at the University of Utah.

She has “single-handedly advanced the use of several powerful techniques in our lab,” according to her mentor, Gordon Buchanan, a UI epilepsy professor and associate professor of neurology. “She is well on her way to making research advances to positively affect the lives of patients with epilepsy.”

Finding her path

Petrucci’s passion evolved out of her pursuit six years ago for connection in an unfamiliar state she’d never visited before applying to UI’s neuroscience program. Once in Iowa City, still unsure of what specifically she would study, Petrucci began volunteering with the local Epilepsy Foundation chapter and found herself at a conference where Buchanan was speaking.

He was presenting on “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy” — a subject that both fascinated and frightened her — and how UI researchers were studying the condition using animal models. As interested as Petrucci was, she needed prodding to jump in his path and introduce herself that day.

 

Source: thegazette.com, Vanessa Miller

RECENT NEWS