Summer 2013

Bianca Ho

Bianca HoBianca Ho, HIP 2013
McGill University, Canada

Sandra McAllister Lab, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

One of Bianca’s favorite memories of her HSCI Internship Program experience was a going-away present for a laboratory technician who was leaving to pursue his PhD. The gift was a pair of dirty socks that he kept in the lab, but thought he’d thrown out.

“It just showed me the kind of community you become,” Bianca said. “It’s not just the work; when you’re researching side by side with people, you become close friends.”

Bianca spent her summer at HSCI developing a tool using single cell clones to study metastasis in breast cancer. Before she applied, she shared the common perception that stem cells are only a panacea. She quickly learned that stem cells are also valuable tools for learning about basic cell biology and drug discovery.

“The stem cell field has definitely made science better across the board,” she said.

Bianca also learned that it’s o.k. for scientists to make mistakes. Halfway through the summer, she needed to throw out three of her experiments because the shared cell culture medium became contaminated. Despite the setback, and with support from her supervisors, she started over and recovered her data.

By the end of her summer, Bianca became so fascinated with the cutting-edge field of cancer stem cells that she changed her career path. Originally, she wanted to be a doctor, but she is now looking into MD/PhD programs.

“Getting involved in research has opened my eyes to what other things I can do with my life,” she said.

Can Aztekin

Can Aztekin, HIP 2013
Sabanci University, Turkey

Benjamin Ebert Lab, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

When Can was thinking about applying to the HSCI Internship Program, his friends were worried that he would be disappointed.

“Most people think that applying to Harvard for an internship is scary and they generally think they will not get in,” he said. “I was saying that I can’t know the answer without trying.”

Can received his letter of acceptance, worked with the program coordinators to find housing, and then made the ten-hour trip to Boston. Walking through Harvard for the first time, he was shocked by how warm and friendly people were.

“Everyone tends to talk to you, wants to know you, and wants to help when they learn that you are a foreign student,” he said. “They want to introduce you to the environment.”

Within his first week at Harvard, Can had volunteered at the International Society for Stem Cell Research annual meeting, held in June 2013, and started his laboratory project finding inhibitors to key proteins that drive cancer.

Can credits his mentors for treating him more like a colleague than an intern. Inspired by the level of determination that his lab mates showed when they approached a question they wanted to solve, he was pushed to do his best. He thrived in HSCI’s environment of collaboration and gained expertise in laboratory technologies that were new to him.

“I knew that I wanted to pursue my PhD, but I wasn’t sure whether I am ready or not,” he said. “But with this internship, I am really confident with myself, and I think when I return to Turkey that I’ll bring that confidence with me.”

Marissa Suchyta

Marissa SuchytaMarissa Suchyta, HIP 2013
Harvard University, USA

Douglas Melton Lab, Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Marissa was a freshman when she established Harvard’s largest salamander facility. Located in the Sherman Fairchild Laboratory basement behind rows of zebrafish tanks, the facility houses about 200 axolotls—Mexican salamanders that can regenerate almost any part of their bodies.

Now a senior, salamander regeneration has formed the foundation of Marissa’s thesis project. Her goal is to understand what allows an axolotl to initiate regeneration of a lost limb, for example, and to identify the factors that ensure the correct cell types are replaced.

“I think the opportunities are truly limitless here at Harvard,” she said. “I’m really able to delve into the science and explore an animal that not many people in the world work with.”

As a participant in the HSCI internship program, Marissa was able to pursue her research interests alongside others just as passionate about stem cell biology. In addition to collaborating with other interns, she was able to bounce her ideas off of Harvard postdoctoral fellows and scientists summering in the laboratory.

“The opportunity to interact with students from so many different background and hear their take on research has been incredible,” she said. “The daily interactions you have at the coffee machine may transform into new ideas for experiments.”

The structure and supportive atmosphere Marissa experienced during her summer at Harvard reaffirmed her desire to become a stem cell scientist. She hopes to enroll in an MD/PhD program within the next few years.

“I love scientific research and I can’t imagine a future without it,” she said.

Tirth Patel

Tirth PatelTirth Patel, HIP 2013
Northwestern University, USA

Fernando Camargo Lab, Boston Children’s Hospital

Tirth credits his interest in stem cell biology to the regenerative capacity of planarian flatworms, which he studies at his home laboratory.

“You can cut them up into fifteen pieces, and you can get fifteen new worms,” said the biomedical engineering major. “It’s amazing to see that there are so many possibilities out there, and you can somehow translate that into therapies for humans.”

Many of the basic skills Tirth learned at Northwestern University came into use as he studied blood-forming stems in his HSCI internship program laboratory. Tasked with improving a technique that’s used to track what cell types an individual cell gives rise too, he gained experience in new kinds of lab work.

For Tirth, the hardest part of the HSCI internship experience was moving to a place where he didn’t know anyone. To make matters worse, in the middle of the summer, a fire broke out in his apartment building, and in a few hours burned down. There were no injuries, but Tirth lost all of his belongings. Upon hearing the news, HSCI program administrators quickly found him a new place to live.

“It was a little scary at first because I was alone,” he said. “But I knew the people in my program and my lab would be there to support me.”

Over time, Tirth got to know other interns through the Friday companion course, as well as planned program outings, such as a trip to the Boston Harbor Islands, but what kept him in the program after the fire was the work.

“It’s just something that’s very different from what I’ve done before,” he said.