By Ellen Amico
Not only is he the captain of the varsity tennis team, a saxophone player, and a member of the debate team, but Arjun Goyal, a Senior at BHHS and a student in the Authentic Science Research Program, is also a successful researcher with a potential solution to a current epidemic in America.
For years now, doctors have turned to opioids to treat patients dealing with nerve pain and neuropathy. Due to the current opioid crisis that is sweeping across America, however, new treatments for pain and neuropathy are needed. Arjun may have the solution to this problem. For the past three years, he has studied the endocannabinoid system, a part of our nervous system. More specifically, he has focused on endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters produced by the body. In his words, his study looked at “how endocannabinoids can be manipulated to treat neuropathy and acute stress.”
Arjun has a personal connection to his research as his grandma suffers from neuropathy, a disease that can cause pain (mainly in the hands and feet) due to nerve damage. He saw how “neuropathy has had a huge detrimental impact on her life and ability to live independently,” so he wanted to research possible treatments. He came across the recently-discovered endocannabinoid system, and research had shown that this system had a plethora of beneficial effects on the body. In addition to studying the system’s impact on neuropathy, his mentor, an expert in the field that worked with Arjun for three years, also suggested he study the endocannabinoid system in relation to acute stress. Thus, Arjun conducted a dual study at Virginia Commonwealth University this past summer with mice to see if endocannabinoids could be a possible treatment for both neuropathy and acute stress.
His research produced novel results that will likely have a great impact on the field of endocannabinoids. He found that endocannabinoids could actually reverse neuropathy and lower levels of these neurotransmitters that were linked to stress. His research adds to the this growing field as his work shows that endocannabinoids may be a promising class of pharmaceutical targets. They are a great alternative to both medical marijuana and opioids because they don’t include the “high” related to cannabis or the addictive nature of opioids. Furthermore, his study furthers researchers’ knowledge of disorders such as PTSD and depression.
All of Arjun’s hard work was recognized at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). Arjun placed second overall and will be moving on to the national competition this May! But this one competition doesn’t quite exemplify how successful Arjun has been. His journey started back at the regional competition, where he competed against 11 other students in Behavioral Science. He won first place in his room and advanced to Albany to compete at the state level (yes, the rumor is true… this competition was in the midst of a snowstorm, so Arjun had to drive up to Albany himself)! Arjun competed against 11 other students, winning first place, and advancing onto the final round the following day. Arjun described the second presentation as “pretty intimidating as it was in front of a panel of eight judges in a massive ballroom filled with over 100 people.” However, he didn’t let his nerves get to him, as his presentation and Q&A went smoothly – so smoothly, in fact, that he won “2nd Place Overall.” When asked about becoming a finalist, Arjun said “it was a huge and pleasant surprise,” and he “felt really honored and happy that [he] was recognized for the work [he] had done.” For the next month or so, Arjun will be polishing up and practicing his presentation to prepare for the national competition.
Arjun has many hopes for the relatively new field of endocannabinoids. He would like to see more translational research, or research between mice and human subjects, prior to clinical trials in humans. Furthermore, he hopes that these treatments will replace opioids, as he believes “the opioid epidemic is a huge problem today that many are trying to find a solution to.” Fortunately, Arjun may have found that solution, so be sure to stay tuned! Let’s wish him good luck as he takes the stand at JSHS in May!