Ketema Paul remembers being wowed at an early age by his cousin’s chemistry set and always feeling drawn to science. This interest followed him to Howard University, Washington, D.C., where he earned an undergraduate degree in biology, and on to Georgia State University, Atlanta for his Ph.D. Now, an associate professor at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine and the subject of our latest LabTV video, Paul runs his own neuroscience lab studying sleep disorders, which affect at least 60 million Americans as chronic or occasional problems and account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year .
Paul’s path to the research bench is an interesting one. The product of a tough neighborhood in Washington, D. C., Paul lost a lot of friends to violence and faced many uncertainties. After college, he moved to Atlanta to try his hand at being a music producer and eventually took a side gig as a disc jockey for the campus radio station at Georgia State. Then one day after his radio show, Paul wandered over to have a look inside a nearby neuroscience lab just for kicks and opened the door on a discussion that would change his life.
Elliot Albers, the head of the lab, encouraged Paul to join his team and pursue an advanced degree at Georgia State. Paul agreed and began working on a project involving circadian rhythms that yielded some promising results and cemented his path into neuroscience.
“There’s very little that speaks to the soul [more] than your first scientific discovery,” he recalls. “It’s like you know something important, and you’re the only person in the world who knows it.”
At Morehouse, Paul receives support from NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to look for genetic targets that might improve the treatment of sleep disorders. Paul also has NINDS support to take a closer look at gender differences in recovering from sleep loss. His group has found that the general health of women appears to be affected disproportionately by chronic sleep disruptions, and he and his colleagues want to find out why. It’s an intriguing area of science and one that fits well with his dream of doing “something more directly practical to helping people every day.”
 Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke/NIH)
Ketema Paul (Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta)
Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet (National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH)
Science Careers (National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH)
Careers Blog (Office of Intramural Training/NIH)