With mentor's guidance, student completed ambitious study for high school research class

Lynette Andreasyan at her high school graduation. (Photo courtesy of Lynette Andreasyan)
Lynette Andreasyan at her high school graduation. (Photo courtesy of Lynette Andreasyan)

A professor of nursing at UCLA and an accomplished researcher specializing in neuroscience, Pamela Jane Nye has mentored students since she began working as a nurse more than 30 years ago.

"I believe that part of teaching is reaching down and pulling along a hand that is raising up and asking for help," she said. "If you aren't busy opening doors and making connections, then you're not really a mentor."

While she has coached many talented people over the years, she has never worked with anybody quite like Lynette Andreasyan.

Just 16 when they connected two years ago, Andreasyan was working on a project for an AP research class. Her goal was lofty: contributing to the field of knowledge in the hopes of making the diagnosis of brain death more effective and efficient.

Brain death is an irreversible condition that occurs when every part of the organ stops functioning, often as a result of a serious head injury. A ventilator can keep the heart beating, even after brain death, but recovery is not possible.

"There are a lot of ambiguities in the treatments and variability in the criteria used in diagnosing brain death," Andreasyan said.

Recognizing that she needed help from an experienced researcher, Andreasyan reached out to the American Heart Association. She had participated in the AHA's Jump Rope for Heart event in elementary school and more recently, the organization's STEM Goes Red program.

When local AHA executive Laura Nichols emailed Nye, a longtime AHA volunteer, she was more than willing to help.

"The first time I talked to Lynette I was flabbergasted," Nye said, noting she had never heard of a 16-year-old who even understood what brain death was. "She has the wisdom and intelligence of some of my graduate students."

Andreasyan had planned to survey neurologists across the country about whether an easy-to-use type of electroencephalogram, a device that measures brain activity, should be used in the prehospital setting, for example, by emergency medical services. If the device could help diagnose brain death more quickly, lives could be saved, Andreasyan said.

"If organs cannot be retrieved in time, organ donation levels will decrease and the amount of people dying waiting for organ donation will increase," she added.

Nye realized straight away that the project as constructed was too ambitious for Andreasyan's four-month deadline. Through a series of phone calls, video meetings and emails, they defined and refined the project's scope, with Andreasyan doing the research and writing.

At Nye's suggestion, Andreasyan surveyed nurses in the greater Los Angeles area about the device's merit when used before the patient arrives at the hospital. She took factors such as their age, gender and years of experience into consideration.

Of the 62 nurses who responded to the survey, more than 88% saw value in measuring brain wave activity before the patient arrived at the hospital. And about 58% of participants believed that brain wave activity information would reduce electroencephalogram delays in the process of diagnosing brain death.

Andreasyan, who scored high marks for her analysis, plans to pursue neurological research throughout her college career. Last year, she was admitted to UCLA, where she will pursue a premed track.

"Lynette's ultimate goal in life is to become a neurologist, and I have no doubt it's going to happen," Nye said.

Grateful for her experience working with Nye, Andreasyan is excited about the possibility of mentoring young people in the future.

"If a young person needs someone, I would gladly be there for that person because I've had people who have been there for me," she said. "If someone is passionate, it's important for them to see someone else who's also passionate, and I got that experience through Pam and the STEM Goes Red program."

Lynette Andreasyan will pursue a premed track at UCLA. (Photo courtesy of Lynette Andreasyan)
Lynette Andreasyan will pursue a premed track at UCLA. (Photo courtesy of Lynette Andreasyan)