Helping People Overcome Pain

Nate Disser

May 17, 2016

SPOKANE, Wash. – Nate Disser, a human physiology major at Gonzaga University, is one of two dozen students nationwide chosen to take part in a paid 10-week Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship from the American Physiological Society. For Disser, from Broomfield, Colorado, the internship is a perfect fit.

In the fellowship starting June 6, Disser will work with Dr. Christopher Mendias, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Michigan Medical School at Ann Arbor. Disser chose the undergraduate discipline of human physiology in hopes of helping people in pain. After four years of various injuries in high school athletics, Disser himself was plagued by chronic pain.

“I’ve become super passionate about learning as much as I can and getting these kinds of experiences so I can get out and help kids like me who are in pain and struggling through injuries,” Disser said.

This summer, Disser will be working on his own project that seeks to begin to address the basic mechanisms involved in tendon growth and repair. Specifically, he will explore the role of membrane type-1 matrix metalloproteinase in determining tendon structure and function. In addition, he will help Mendias with research topics including myosteatosis (fat infiltration in skeletal muscle), muscle atrophy, rotator cuff disease, and fermoroacetabular impingement, a condition in which the hip bones are abnormally shaped.

Through this unique fellowship, Disser identified Dr. Mendias as someone he wanted to learn from due in large part to his expertise in musculoskeletal regenerative medicine. Disser is working at the Mendias Lab.

“Being a former athlete and having gone through the process of having a major injury and recovering from this helps to give insight and motivation when studying musculoskeletal biology,” Disser said.

Jointly, they will be researching tendon mechanobiology – an emerging discipline that combines aspects of biology and engineering to explore how the healing and growth of tendons can be assisted by other means.

Disser, who will return to Gonzaga as a senior this fall, sees his future wide open with possibilities in his aim to help people with chronic pain.

“Ultimately, my goal is to be able to develop a unique knowledge and skill set that will allow me to serve others who are in pain, whether that is through a clinical or research setting, or both. I don’t want any kid like me or any person in general to have to give up their dream or alter their life in any way because of pain and injury,” Disser said.

My education at GU has been vital in this journey not only through what I have learned in class, but through the community of Zags who have taught me how important it is to live a life with and for others. I am inspired every day by their dedication to going out into the world and truly making an impact on the people they encounter, and I hope to one day be able to do the same.”