Sleepless and Missing Seattle: My Palermo Lab Experience

October 6th, 2014

Blog Post written by Caitlin Murray


This past summer, I was able to visit Dr. Tonya Palermo’s lab in Seattle, WA through the generous support of Pain in Child Health (PICH). The past three years of graduate school have solidified my desire to become a pediatric pain researcher and clinician. Through the guidance and support of my research mentor, Dr. Grayson Holmbeck, I was able to develop a research project for my doctoral dissertation (recently funded by the National Institute of Health: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Award Service for Individual Predoctoral Fellows) to increase understanding of the interrelationship between pain and sleep in adolescents with spina bifida, a relatively common congenital birth defect. I am both excited and motivated by this project, and was thrilled to be able to design my own study aims and integrate my own data collection into Dr. Holmbeck’s ongoing longitudinal study on adjustment in children and adolescents with SB.


Given the specific topic of my dissertation, I wanted to seek out specialized teaching and guidance to bring my project to its successful completion. Dr. Palermo is an expert in the interrelationship between pain and sleep in children and her lab is one of the few to use objective and subjective sleep methodologies in children with chronic pain. After two weeks of focused time gaining exposure to research and conceptual models of the pain-sleep relationship, obtaining intensive training in coding and analysis of actigraphic data (these data come from an actiwatch- a wristwatch-like device that uses motion to approximate sleep patterns), and becoming proficient in daily diary and analytic approaches to address temporal relationships between pain and sleep, I feel better prepared to take my dissertation project by storm.


Beyond work spent towards the development of my dissertation project, I also had the unique opportunity to learn about the research being conducted in the Palermo lab by attending lab meetings and meeting individually with each of the faculty investigators. Research in this lab is wonderfully diverse in terms of professional experience; Dr. Palermo’s lab includes pediatric psychologists, anesthesiologists and statisticians. Research projects are diverse in topics covered, and (to name a few) include behavioral sleep treatments for children with chronic pain, sleep and quality of life following major surgery, anxiety and pain memories, and the economic burden of pediatric chronic pain. That this diverse group of talented individuals is housed under one roof is impressive, and it is clear that they motivate and influence each other every day.


My PICH lab experience was wonderful not only in giving me the tools to be a successful principal investigator of my dissertation research, but also in introducing me to a highly motivated, eclectic (and fun) group of researchers and clinicians that have one goal: to design innovative pediatric pain research to move our field forward. I am so grateful for the support of PICH, Dr. Grayson Holmbeck, and Dr. Tonya Palermo’s entire research group for making this lab visit possible.