The "Fog" of Lupus
As a student on Kent State University’s Salem Campus, Haley Shasteen gained a strong interest in conducting research and took first place honors at the Kent State University Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) competition in 2018. Her research project, “Cognitive Impairments of those with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus,” spanned 10 weeks over the 2018 summer.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the body’s systems rather than any foreign “invaders” that attack the body.
“I have lupus, as does my mother, so I am interested in this subject from a personal standpoint,” says Shasteen, who was diagnosed at age 13 and is now in a remissive stage. “There seems to be a lot of research related to lupus, but there are a lot of missing pieces and not a lot of replication related to cognitive impairment, or ‘brain fog’ as some call it.”
Shasteen says having lupus gives her an edge with her research. “I know what it feels like to have brain fog,” she says. “The more reading I do about this, the more interesting it all becomes to me.”
Through her research, she uncovered other researchers’ findings that suggest brain fog and cognitive impairment are unrelated. “I want to find out what brain fog really is.”
“I want to find out what brain fog really is.”
For her research during the SURE program, Shasteen had one dedicated participant (diagnosed with lupus) who was tested every day for 10 weeks (or 70 times), using computerized “brain training” programs. During that time period, she also tracked the participant’s physical symptoms and subjective cognitive symptoms, along with variables of weather, diet, stress, anxiety and mood.
Shasteen says she was somewhat surprised by the findings at the end of the 10 weeks. The two main findings included: 1) That cognitive performance is not related to the subjective feeling of being cognitively impaired; and 2) that the subjective feeling of being cognitively impaired was strongly related to stress, anxiety, the number of psychological symptoms, negative mood and the amount of sugar consumed.
While the research submitted for the SURE competition focused on one participant, Shasteen also conducted the same cognitive testing on two other participants for varying periods of time. Findings from all three participants will be included in the article she is currently writing.
She also presented her research findings at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference in Chicago this spring and is working to have her research published.
Shasteen was recognized at the May meeting of the Kent State Board of Trustees for being one of two Kent State students awarded the prestigious 2019 Goldwater Scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation (For more information).
After transferring to the Kent Campus last fall, Shasteen is now pursuing a dual degree in molecular and cellular biology and psychology. She intends to eventually earn a doctoral degree in cognitive neuropsychology and will continue conducting research related to cognitive impairment in patients with autoimmune diseases, with an emphasis on systemic lupus erythematosus.