David Ruskin with Trinity students working in his lab: (back row) Ariana Adamski ’17, Hannah Reichert ’18, (front row) Livia Wyss ’16, Subrina Bisnauth ’15, and Lizzy Foley ’17.

The ketogenic diet has been around for over 100 years as a treatment for epilepsy. Susan Masino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science, recently published an article finding that the diet’s effectiveness comes from increasing levels of adenosine. Building on that research and existing theories of neuroscience, David Ruskin, research assistant professor, is testing the proposition that the ketogenic diet can also be used to relieve pain. For that work, Ruskin was recently awarded a grant of over $380,000 from the National Institute of Health.

​Masino’s research, backed by a $1.7 million grant from the NIH, supports the theory that the ketogenic diet – a low-carbohydrate diet that treats epilepsy – works by increasing levels of adenosine, and other researchers have found that adenosine relieves pain. So it stands to reason that the ketogenic diet holds the potential to be successful in relieving pain. That proposition is what Ruskin and a group of Trinity undergraduate students are exploring in their research.

The six undergraduates are involved at every step of the research, including running tests and collecting data. Their work, if it confirms their hypothesis, could have tremendous implications: this natural treatment for inflammatory pain would be welcomed by those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot use traditional pain relievers.

It is likely to be at least a year before Ruskin and the students have preliminary results, but their work is under way. This research is made possible by one of the hallmarks of a Trinity education: faculty members and undergraduate students collaborating on cutting-edge research.

“It’s been a great seven years at Trinity,” said Ruskin, who joined the faculty in 2008. “Working with students and other faculty members is very enjoyable.”

Ruskin’s colleagues are equally enthusiastic about his work at Trinity.

“Dave is an amazing collaborator, and I can’t overstate how valuable he is to the laboratory,” said Masino. “Besides being a great scientist, he is a great writer and a great mentor to the students. Students who work with him are really lucky because his time is devoted almost 100 percent to the research and they get a lot of one-on-one attention from a highly trained scientist.”