Sarah El-Azab

Sarah El-Azab
Mentor: Dr. David Baekey
College of Veterinary Medicine
"As a pre-medical student, I became involved in research to satisfy my own passion for science and to also understand the process behind the discovery of novel treatments and therapies for patients. In Dr. Baekey’s laboratory I was given the opportunity to immerse myself in research on spinal cord injury and respiratory control. Through this work I came to understand the significance of the scientific method in creating medical breakthroughs. I am now motivated to apply to MD/PhD programs to further contribute to advances in medicine as a future physician scientist. "


Microbiology and Cell Science


Chemistry, Arabic Languages and Literature, Women’s Studies

Research Interests

  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Electrophysiology
  • Respiratory Control

Academic Awards

  • Reitz Scholar, 2014-2015
  • Presidential Service Award, 2014
  • HHMI Science for Life Intramural Award, 2013-2014
  • National Merit Finalist, 2011


  • Florida Alternative Breaks, Site Leader Trainer
  • UF Premed AMSA, Director of Health Disparities in Medicine Committee


  • Florida Alternative Breaks
  • RAHMA Mercy Clinic
  • UF Health Shands Hospital

Hobbies and Interests

  • Running
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Baking

Research Description

Silver Electroplating: A Novel Method for Mapping Spinal Circuitry
Cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI) can result in respiratory impairment due to damage of the pathways carrying the brainstem generated signals to the motor nuclei in the spine. Fundamental to rehabilitation and repair is a basic understanding of the spinal respiratory network and changes that occur after chronic cSCI. Thus, the overall goal of this project is to characterize the underlying respiratory circuitry and determine how injury impacts the neural control of muscles involved in breathing. To examine this system, we use a murine model and place fine wire tungsten microelectrodes in appropriate nuclei using a custom built multi-electrode array. Synchronous recordings of many single neurons in the spinal network allow for correlational analysis and the creation of a functional “map” of respiratory control. Determining the location of neural recording sites is crucial to constructing this map and, until this point, has been a historically challenging task. We are thus employing a novel method of juxtacellular labeling in which a small amount of silver is electroplated on the tip of each electrode prior to neural recordings. Afterwards, the silver will be deposited at the recording site and subsequent histological techniques allow for the amplification of the deposited silver such that the exact recording coordinates within the tissue can be located. By defining the spinal circuitry controlling respiratory muscles and identifying neural targets which potentiate the output we hope to suggest new therapeutic approaches for patients who suffer from respiratory impairment due to cSCI.