Olga Pylaeva - UNCW Undergraduate Researcher 2011

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Olga Pylaeva '11 moved to the United States from Moscow at the age of 13, she knew she wanted to be a doctor.
"I never decided to go into medicine. It was just something I felt all my life," she said.

Pylaeva, a biology and marine biology major, credits the University of North Carolina Wilmington for helping her attain her goal of attending medical school.

In her four years at UNCW, Pylaeva was able to perform her own research, travel to and volunteer in developing countries and achieve recognition for her contributions. Her decision to attend UNCW was "one of the best of my life so far," she said.

While many universities reserve direct research, lab work and publication for graduate and doctoral students, UNCW strongly encourages undergrad- uate involvement. Working with Sonja Pyott, assistant professor in biology and marine biology, Pylaeva was able to pursue groundbreaking work in human biology.

Pylaeva researched sodium and potassium exchange in the vestibular apparatus, the structures in the inner
ear responsible for balance, control of the orientation of the head and stabilization of visual fields. These structures are very important since loss of their functions "can result in hearing loss and vertigo and the inability to carry out normal tasks like walking or reading," according to Pyott.

The research is the first of its kind in the vestibular apparatus, said Pyott. Pylaeva's work is vital to understanding how sodium-potassium pumps function in the inner-ear organs and could pave the way for other researchers and doctors to develop vestibular implants or treat vestibular disorders. Pyott says Pylaeva's research "has very important conse- quences on how these structures within the inner ear function."

Pylaeva plans to have this work in print by the end of the year with Pyott's aid.

In addition to her work in the lab, Pylaeva was an active and involved student with a 4.0 GPA. In 2009, she volunteered at a local hospital but was unsatisfied with how little she could do to help.

"I could only give people a blanket in the waiting room," she remembers, because she wasn't a doctor or a nurse. "That wasn't enough. So I went to get my CNA license [that summer]."

She founded the Global Health Brigade chapter at UNCW, planning and fundraising for its first trip to Honduras in December 2010.

She also received the 2011 scholar- ship awarded to aspiring physicians by the New Hanover-Pender County Medical Society.
Spring semester 2012 Pylaeva started classes at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.