Student Spotlight with Yamen Abbas

Welcome back Matrix readers!  This March, Matrix caught up with Harvard undergraduate Yamen Abbas to discuss his research in Dr. Rich Lee’s lab, his love of trekking, and his rather sweet nickname.

by Irina Cashen

Yamen Abbas
Yaman Abbas, in the fight for heart regeneration research, in Rich Lee's lab.
Matrix: So Yamen, I’ve heard a little something about your involvement with The Harvard Israel Trek – can you tell me a little about what that is?

Yamen:  Yes – the Harvard Israel Trek is an annual trip, in which five Harvard undergraduates lead 50 other Harvard undergrads to Israel and some parts of Palestine and the West Bank during spring break.  About 300 students apply every year for the opportunity. It’s a chance to learn about some of the culture and politics of Israel, meet with leaders there, and eat hummus, oh so much hummus. As I’m the only Palestinian citizen of Israel on campus, I really wanted to get involved and bring my perspective to the trip. Ideally, I would want there to be a Harvard Palestine Trek, in which we can talk more about the Palestinian narrative and culture, but nonetheless I was able to influence the scheduling of the Israel Trek, and even hosted all of the students at my home in Nazareth!

Matrix: That sounds like an amazing way to spend your spring break! When you’re not travelling the world, what do you work on in Rich Lee’s lab?

Yamen:  I’ve been researching heart regeneration for my thesis, which I turned in two weeks ago. There was a paper in 2013 about how neonatal mice were shown to regenerate hearts, which was surprising. Before that, only lower vertebrate animals such as salamanders and axolotls were found to regenerate hearts. The protein C5AR1 was also identified by folks in the lab to inhibit the regeneration process. So my thesis was to learn more about this – where was the protein expressed, and could the same thing happen with an axolotl. And what if we increase this protein with adult mice versus baby mice - is there a regenerative response? We ended up getting some very interesting results!

Matrix:  This is fascinating research – are you going to continue with it after graduation?

Yamen: Well, I’m definitely planning on applying for MD-PhD programs, but I’m planning on taking two gap years first — something I also did after high school — to travel. This time I’ll be working for ClearView Healthcare Partners, a consulting firm in Boston and New York, that focuses on healthcare and life sciences and works with pharmas and biotech companies . I’ll be learning on the job!

Matrix: Awesome! And will you be keeping up your “trekking?”

Yamen:  Yes! I really love the outdoors and hiking, and this last spring break I went to the Grand Canyon.

Matrix: So you know it’s time for the big reveal question now – we have to have one every issue. Yours is –  do you have a nickname?!

Yamen: Ah yes, I acquired one in college. It’s to do with the spelling of my name, which as you know is Yamen. This got shortened to “Yam” and then eventually…”Sweet Potato.” Somehow it works.

Matrix:  Sweeeeeet! Thanks for sharing that with us, “Sweet Potato,” (I hope I haven’t just made your social life very awkward) -  and best of luck after graduation!


See also: Spotlight