Back to the Future: Grace Mosley on pain, science and art

Real Scientists is in New York, New York this week with Grace Mosley (@runDRG), an MD-PhD candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. We chatted with Grace about medicine, art, and pain.

Grace Mosley (C)

Grace Mosley (C)


How did you get into medicine AND science?

Growing up, I was always torn between art and science, but between the two, I was better at science, and my science teachers encouraged me to pursue science much more than my art teachers encouraged me to pursue art. I loved talking to my mom about her job as a nurse, so in college, I figured I’d eventually apply to medical school. My first summer in college, I found a job in a great lab, and realized I really liked working in a lab. I lamented to a professor that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to grad school for neuroscience or medical school, and she asked, “Why not both?” I hadn’t known MD-PhD programs existed, but I loved the idea of getting to do both medicine and science.


I originally wanted to study psychiatric disorders for the PhD part of my MD-PhD, and figured that paired best with psychiatry as a medical specialty. But after taking anatomy the first year of medical school and LOVING it, I had a bit of an existential crisis. I wanted my medical specialty and research focus to be related, but I loved the “hands-on” nature of anatomy lab, and psych felt like the least “hands-on” specialty. I went to an information session held by my current PI and the orthopaedic spine surgeon the lab collaborates with, and decided to do my next rotation in the lab. I was placed on a pain focused project, and realized I could integrate the fields of pain neuroscience and orthopaedics, which is what I do now!


What kind of pain do you research, and how do you study it?

I research low back pain. Using a rat model of low back pain, I’m trying to figure out if the progression from degeneration of the intervertebral discs in the spine to chronic low back pain is different between males and females. I look at changes in the spine, in nerves, and in the brain to better understand this process and to try to identify new targets for therapies.


That’s really fascinating. What motivates your work?

Everyone has low back pain! Well, not everyone, but it is the leading cause of disability worldwide, one of the most common reasons for visits to a doctor, and a significant driver of the opioid crisis. Non-specific chronic low back pain isn’t well treated with surgery, and most pain medications are much better at treating acute pain than chronic pain, so we need to better understand what causes it and how to fix it. It is also important to understand how this pain process may differ between males and females, in case it is different enough to require different treatment approaches.


What do you get up to when you’re not in the lab?

I’m a member of the New York Road Runners, so I spend a lot of my free time training and running races (including the NYC marathon!). I’m also part of a weekly figure drawing group, volunteer at my school’s student-run clinic, and a TA for the anatomy course. I’m a big movie fan–a few years ago, I decided to watch every movie that has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture (from 1928 to now!). It has been interesting to see how what the people in power think is “best” has shifted over time, and weigh in on some of the snubs. I also love traveling by myself–send me all the travel recommendations!


What would your perfect day be like?

Wake up when the sun peaks over the building behind mine, bike to my favorite coffee shop for breakfast, go somewhere new to me in the city (restaurant, museum exhibit, event), take a nap, go out to dinner with friends, end up at a concert and/or a dive bar.


Grace Mosley, welcome to Real Scientists!

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