Group collage of NIAMS 2023 interns

Collage of NIAMS 2023 InVTRO Interns

This past summer, the NIAMS Intramural Research Program’s (IRP’s) Career Development and Outreach Branch (CDOB) welcomed a cohort of 16 interns from across the country to participate in the NIAMS Summer Internship Program known as InVTRO, the first to do so fully in person since 2019. The interns were hosted by 12 different IRP labs for a 9-week program, where they were able to join researchers and conduct research into a variety of diseases within the NIAMS mission areas.

The InVTRO program is designed to help students gain an understanding of and experience with biomedical research. CDOB programming included sessions devoted to learning about science communications; how to write a personal statement for professional school; individual career development meetings; and how to conduct research responsibly. Interns also met with NIAMS Principal Investigators (PIs) and current fellows to discuss their professional journeys.

Interns had the opportunity to interact with both NIAMS and IRP senior leadership, including NIAMS Director Dr. Lindsey Criswell; Clinical Director of Intramural Research, Dr. Robert Colbert; and Director of Intramural Research, Dr. John O’Shea.

Meet the Interns:

Photo of Olivia Anderson

Olivia Anderson         
University of Maryland         
Chemical Engineering (3rd Year)         
Muscle Energetics

This summer, I worked in Dr. Brian Glancy's lab with Dr. Hailey Parry. My project focused on mitochondrial activity in proximity to lipid droplets. This study helps us better understand mitochondrial function in the skeletal muscle of those with type II diabetes. Over the nine weeks, I improved my lab skills and learned many new techniques. I also gained experience with a myriad of new software. I made great connections, shadowed doctors, and heard more about opportunities available at the NIH and elsewhere. As I continue my career, I hope to become more involved with translational research, hopefully at the NIH. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that NIAMS has afforded me and plan to complete a postbaccalaureate program next year.

Photo of Simran Bal

Simran Bel         
University of California at Davis         
Psychology (1st Year)         
RNA Molecular Biology Laboratory

This past summer, I worked in Dr. Markus Hafner’s lab under the guidance of Dr. Jeremy Scutenaire. I was exposed to and learned numerous techniques and methods that have helped develop my technical laboratory skills. I also learned more about communicating about research through various events, working on my summer poster, and speaking with others. In the future, I hope to build on the experience I have gotten from working at the NIH, exploring different sectors of research, and continuing to do more basic research. Being at the NIH has been one of the most amazing experiences because I have learned so much, and also because it has a strong sense of community and promotes learning, teaching, and growth, all of which can be attributed to the awesome people that work here! NIAMS is a tight-knit community of amazing people, and it has been one of the coolest experiences getting to be part of it.

Photo of Eric Cho

Eric Cho                 
Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University                 
Medicine (Med. School, Year 1)                 
Muscle Disease Section

During my summer internship, I had the opportunity to work under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Mammen and his team. Throughout this internship, I gained a profound understanding of clinical research, from protocol development to patient interactions, sample collection, RNA sequencing, data analysis, and the publication process. Collaborating with Dr. Iago Pinal-Fernandez and Dr. Katherine Pak provided invaluable insight and mentorship. I learned the significance of teamwork, effective communication, organization, and building self-confidence in a research setting. My experience at NIAMS has inspired me to stay connected with my mentors and continue voluntarily contributing remotely to ongoing projects if possible. Ultimately, my hope is to make meaningful contributions to the field of muscle disease research and play a role in advancing therapeutic options for patients with myositis. Reflecting on my two months at NIAMS, I vividly remember Dr. Janelle Hauserman's words about the welcoming nature of everyone in the institute. At first, I was skeptical, but I can now affirm that I have been proven wrong. The experience has shown me that indeed, everyone at NIAMS is extremely nice, supportive, and welcoming.

Photo of Faalataitaua Fitisemanu

Fa'alataitaua Fitisemanu            
Wesleyan University            
Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, Chemistry (4th Year)            
Muscle Disease Section

During my summer at NIAMS, I worked for Dr. Andrew Mammen in the Muscle Disease Section. I worked with the entire lab to identify novel autoantibodies involved in myositis using screening tests on patient serums. My experience this summer has really expanded my scientific interests. Before this summer, I only had done research in a basic science context, so my exposure to clinical and translational research has shaped my interests in a very new way. I will apply to doctorate programs this fall, and after my NIH experience, I have decided to apply to more clinical and translational science programs. I think that NIAMS really put a huge emphasis on my personal development, and it has expanded my opportunities for the future.

Photo of Kaleb Edwards

Kaleb Edwards            
Indiana University School of Medicine            
Medicine (Med. School, Year 1)            
Lupus Clinical Trial Unit

This past summer I interned in Dr. Sarfaraz Hasni’s lab where I did research on the factors related to osteoporosis and fragility fractures in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. This was my second year doing the NIAMS internship program, which has been a fantastic networking opportunity, for both mentors and friends, and has helped to solidify the fact that I would like to be a dermatologist.

Photo of Ellen Kang

Ellen Kang            
Rice University            
Biology (1st Year)            
Functional Immunogenomics Section

As part of the Franco lab, my project involved tracking neutrophils as tissue-resident cells in rhesus macaques. This project allowed me to transfer textbook concepts beyond the theoretical classroom setting and apply them to a hands-on research experience. It really pushed me to develop self-efficacy and independence in thinking about and doing science. At the same time, when I ran into questions, everyone in the lab took time to explain the lab’s research projects, underlying science, and phases of research to be sure that I had a firm understanding. The mentorship extended beyond the lab, as everyone graciously shared their experiences and offered valuable advice for my future academic pursuits. I came into the program looking to develop laboratory skills and familiarize myself with a research environment, and I know with certainty that working with like-minded peers under the guidance of extraordinary researchers was a great opportunity for me to do so. As I continue my academic journey, I carry with me an expanded laboratory skillset and a deeper appreciation for the scientific exploration process.

Photo of Faradia Kernizan

Faradia Kernizan           
Tulane University School of Medicine           
Medicine (Med. School, Year 1)           
Dermatology Branch

During my internship, I worked on a project analyzing the genetics of Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia, or CCCA – a topic that is very dear to me because it is a dermatological disorder that disproportionately affects people of African/Black descent, and I personally know people who have it. My mentor was Dr. Leslie Castelo-Soccio, who helped nurture my innate curiosity in science and research. The experience as a NIAMS intern was enriching and transformative. Prior to this program, I had not considered research as part of my future clinical career. However, my time in the summer internship program shifted my perspective entirely. The NIAMS internship program showcased ways to integrate research into a physician's career, inspiring me to envision a future as a physician-researcher – someone who not only cares for patients but also contributes to the advancement of medicine through research. I also hope to make a meaningful difference by addressing dermatological disorders like CCCA and advocating for better healthcare access and outcomes for underserved populations.

Photo of Aditi Kodali

Aditi Kodali          
University of Virginia          
Biology (2nd Year)          
Translational Genetics and Genomics Section

This past summer, I worked in Dr. Michael Ombrello’s lab, which studies the genetic and molecular basis of systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis. This internship taught me valuable bioinformatic techniques and allowed me to apply my interest in biostatistics in a clinical research project. I also learned more about the intersection between patient care and medical research. My experience at NIAMS has been informative and exciting, and I look forward to using the skills I have learned this summer in my future career.

Photo of Marissa Krantz

Marissa Krantz          
University of Rochester        
Biology (1st Year)          
Translational Genetics and Genomics Section

This past summer I worked in Dr. Michael Ombrello’s lab under Biologist Anthony Cruz, where I studied the autoinflammatory response in patients with systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis. My experience as a summer intern has been very valuable. Not only have I learned new wet lab techniques and gained further biochemistry knowledge, but I was also able to understand the ins and outs of being a translational researcher in academic medicine. Outside of running experiments I got the opportunity to shadow doctors, connect with investigators, hear about colleagues’ personal journeys to academic medicine, and gather information and advice for my own career path. I felt like I was able to get a lot out of the internship because lab personnel were so accessible and eager to teach. Based on my experience this summer, translational research is something that I am interested in pursuing in my future and I am grateful to have had this opportunity!

Photo of Mohamad Faizal

Mohamad Faizal       
University of Texas, Austin       
Human Biology (1st Year)       
Laboratory of Muscle Stem Cells and Gene Regulation

My time at the NIH was amazing, from working in the lab to making new friends and connections. I am also grateful for the mentorship I received at NIAMS to help me get the most out of this experience, from learning how to conduct an experiment to discussing my future plans with some of the most supportive individuals I have ever met. The time went by fast, but I learned, developed, and improved a lot of valuable skills that will help me become a better scientist. I am still amazed by how friendly researchers are at the NIH – the way I was welcomed and respected by everyone made the transition to NIH very smooth. I also loved the diversity at the NIH, and I was able to meet a lot of people of different backgrounds which made me feel like I belong here. This is an experience that I will never forget, and I hope to continue to explore my research interests at the NIH. Thank you very much for this amazing opportunity.

Photo of Trisha Raj

Trisha Raj      
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill      
Neuroscience (1st Year)      
Cutaneous Development and Carcinogenesis Section

I was a student in the Brownell lab where we studied Merkel cell carcinoma, which is a rare and aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer with a high case fatality rate. I was mentored by Dr. Khalid Garman who taught me how to write my own protocol, run my own experiments, collect data, and put together a poster. This experience was an eye opener for me since this was the first chance I got to work in a lab since COVID-19. I’m able to take away a meaningful lab experience that has fueled a new interest in research for me. Before coming to the NIH, I never did know what it meant to work as a researcher, but now I see myself pursuing a career focused on research. I hope to get a chance to continue my research endeavors, even potentially returning here for another summer.

Photo of Sidharth Ranga

Sidharth Ranga      
Case Western Reserve University     
Pre-Med (2nd Year)      
Pediatric Translational Research Branch

Over the summer, I conducted research in Dr. Robert Colbert’s lab and worked directly under staff scientist, Dr. Elham Navid. More so than my past research experiences, the NIAMS summer internship enabled me to not only problem solve and improvise when experiments were not yielding tangible results, but to also look past the sole goal of obtaining favorable results and instead to simply learn more about the underlying mechanisms at play. My time at NIAMS also exposed me to rheumatology and autoinflammatory diseases within the musculoskeletal system, which has further fueled my passion for studying orthopedics, bone biology, and the musculoskeletal system in general. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of autonomy as well as the welcomeness I felt as a NIAMS intern. Moreover, my transition from the “new intern on the block” to a regular in the lab couldn’t have gone smoother as all the postbacs and post-docs were extremely inclusive.

Photo of Ahan Shankwalkar

Ahan Shankwalkar      
University of California, Berkeley    
Pre-Med (3rd Year)      
Pediatric Translational Research Branch

I worked in Dr. Robert Colbert’s Pediatric Translational Research lab and my direct mentor was Dr. Elham Navid. My research investigated the effect of Rapamycin on gut inflammation. It seems that gut inflammation is linked to spondyloarthritis, making this research quite relevant. The most valuable thing I have learned throughout my laboratory experience is the importance of diligence. When dealing with sensitive experiments, the details matter, and any small missteps could skew the data. I hope to carry the meticulousness I have developed throughout the summer program with me as I move forward in my medical education. Overall, my time spent as a NIAMS researcher has helped me to evolve as a working member of the medical sphere and has rewarded me with new skills and outlooks that I intend to take advantage of as I navigate my journey towards becoming a physician.

Photo of Zain Syed

Zain Syed   
Case Western Reserve University   
Biomedical Engineering (2nd Year)   
Lupus Clinical Trials Unit

I am more than appreciative for being able to join Dr. Sarfaraz Hasni with his research to explore the systemic nature of lupus, specifically in relation with osteoporosis and fragility fractures. Dr. Hasni has been a wonderful PI and even better mentor, emphasizing the teaching aspect of his role so that we can gain a deeper understanding of our research. From the research team I’ve been privileged to work with to the fellows and attendings I’ve been honored to shadow, the atmosphere at NIAMS and the learning environment is truly remarkable and unparalleled. The collaborations between all the diverse sectors, the campus to explore, the break-through science happening behind every door – you really get the sense that you are standing at the beating heart of science. And from the summer internship program, I got to contribute towards that greater goal and leave my mark for those to come after me. It’s been a stellar opportunity and I will leave here with the utmost respect and gratitude for the people, research, and community I was able to be a part of.

Photo of Isabella Tan

Isabella Tan   
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School  
Medicine (Med. School, Year 1)  
Vasculitis Translational Research Program

I worked with Dr. Peter Grayson on the skin manifestations of the novel VEXAS syndrome. During my internship, I did chart reviewing both retrospectively and prospectively to draw clinical patterns, in hopes of developing a concise, data-driven algorithm for a dermatologist to apply when they see a specific presentation in their office. Being a summer intern at NIAMS taught me the importance of strong mentoring relationships, as well as helped me to hone my clinical reasoning and data analysis skills. When I first started, I wasn't sure what to expect, but everyone I met at NIAMS was extremely kind and welcoming. I could not imagine a better way to spend my summer – alongside the best and brightest in the scientific community, while also striving towards my goal of developing into a physician-scientist of the future.

Photo of Sydney Taormina

Sydney Taormina   
Davidson College, Delaware 
Pre-Med (3rd Year) 
Molecular Immunology and Inflammation

This past summer I worked in Dr. John O’Shea’s lab under Dr. Rachael Philips. I learned to think more critically about scientific questions, papers, and approaches to experiments, as well as many new lab techniques and protocols. In addition, I gained experience presenting my data at lab meetings and poster day, which has allowed me to improve my scientific communication skills. Outside of the lab, I’ve been able to collaborate and be a part of presentations from guest speakers who have taught me that flexibility in a career path is key to success because it most likely will never perfectly match your original plan. Through reaching out to different physicians to shadow and have meetings, I’ve learned to be proactive and put myself out there because you can expose yourself to experiences that you didn’t think were obtainable. These experiences have taught me how to evaluate patients and conduct physical exams in a field I’m very interested in pursuing.