Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA
Each morning for the past few months I have walked to work, enlivened by a cocoon of sunshine and surrounded by a flurry of scrubs and research lanyards. Waiting at the traffic light, I felt a mixture of admiration and awe, with a splash of intimidation: who are these doctors and nurses and post-docs who I share a sidewalk with? Are you, in the tie dye surgical cap, off to save a life? You over there with the briefcase, are you one experiment away from curing a rare disease? The energy and brilliance seemed to pulsate across strangers, bounce off of traffic lights, and cast its inspiration over me. I couldn’t help but smile just thinking about all of the amazing work that was happening around me, at the various hospitals and research institutes located in the concentrated Longwood medical area. In the midst of all of this excitement, all of this wonder, my eyes would occasionally glance down and rediscover my own bright blue research lanyard… how extraordinary it is that I could join, and become a tiny part of, such a vibrant scientific community. Fast forward a few minutes to me opening my computer at my desk and looking up to see a “Keep Calm and Neuron” sign newly displayed on the wall. Oh ya!
I feel incredibly grateful to have worked in the Young-Pearse (TYP) lab at the Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases, Brigham and Women’s hospital, in Boston this summer. While the center’s research spans a wide range of neurologic pathologies, the research focus of the TYP lab is Alzheimer’s disease. In order to probe the molecular underpinnings of this devastating and widespread condition, we generated human brain cells from stem cells and then conducted a variety of techniques. As part of the program, I was tasked with presenting my research at lab meeting at the end of the summer. While this was an at-first daunting assignment, I am so grateful for the ways in which it helped me grow. I not only had to compress all of the background, experimental process, and results into a 20-minute presentation, but I also had to make sure that my understanding of the material was apt enough to explain it to a group of experts and thoughtfully answer their questions. I am so happy with how it went, no doubt due to the incredibly encouraging “audience,” and it certainly raised my confidence in a lab setting!
I spent the summer working closely with a post-doc named Marty in the TYP lab. She welcomed me into the lab with great kindness and patience, never hesitating to re-explain a concept or walk me through a procedure. The first week I shadowed her hands-off, but as the summer progressed I gained the experience and skillset necessary to participate in many aspects of the experiments. Some techniques include micro-pipetting, BCA assay, tissue culture, Western blot, immunostaining, and ELISA. In one project, we are studying the potential neurodegenerative aspect of Christianson’s syndrome, a traditionally neurodevelopmental disorder, by probing the response of tau and amyloid-beta, two hallmark proteins of Alzheimer’s, in various NHE6 mutants. To do so we mainly use a Western blot, which is a very important technique in many research projects. At the beginning of the summer I couldn’t even fathom how Marty so effortlessly loaded the protein into the gel and decanted the blots, but at this point I can successfully perform a Western blot from start to finish! This project has also taught me how to quantify the blots and organize data. Each day consisted of working with Marty to run experiments and analyze data, attending lab meetings, and hearing talks from members of the broader Brigham medical community. I have learned a tremendous amount, spanning from specific research techniques, to data analysis, to neurological systems, and to Alzheimer’s-specific mechanisms.
In the midst of such cutting-edge science, most astounding perhaps was the vibrant, positive, and collaborative culture of the lab. The people were truly unique in their humble brilliance, eagerness to help, and balance between fun and focus. Lab meetings were filled with thoughtful and provoking questions, and it was so evident that each member genuinely wanted to support the other, whether that be by fixing a finicky piece of equipment, helping to pick up dropped dry ice, or comparing data to look for a new approach. Aside from the science, I was blown away by the upbeat and social atmosphere of the lab! Despite incredibly cutting-edge and difficult research projects, each member of the lab found a way to integrate laughter, discussion, and liveliness into every day. The environment is ineffably positive and welcoming, and, although my stay was only for the summer, I felt equally valued in the lab from the very first day.
This internship has affirmed my decision to pursue a career in medicine. I will continue to engage in biology classes, now with a more enriched foundational lens through which to understand molecular mechanisms and the systems of the body. While this experience has no doubt cemented my passion for pathology and medicine, it has also importantly taught me that a career in lab research is not for me. I have gained a heightened awareness of my excitement for interacting with new people on a daily basis, and I have learned that the focus and attention to detail necessary for a successful lab research career may not be my strength. This summer I have realized both how passionate I am about medicinal and pathological work, and how wide of a field that is. I do not know what aspect of this field I will thrive in the most, but I am enthusiastic about discovering it through experiences like this internship. This summer at the TYP lab was an incredibly educational and inspiring experience, one that sustained both a general passion for biology and a specific career orientation towards becoming a doctor. I am so grateful to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Public Service Internship Program for giving me the opportunity to pursue this extraordinary experience—from the bottom of my heart, thank you!!