The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) offers a Summer Research Program that provides outstanding opportunities for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and medical students contemplating a career in biomedical research or academic medicine.
This year, 14 interns received career mentoring from NIAMS researchers, attended lectures and symposia, engaged in basic and clinical research, and gained credentials that will help them pursue their career goals. It is our pleasure to share with you some of their stories.
Thomas Cameron Brimer, a native of Oxford, Alabama, will enter his first-year of medical school at The University of South Alabama with the goal of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon. Thomas was a first-year NIAMS summer student and spent his internship in the Pediatric Translational Research Branch under Dr. Robert Colbert studying spondyloarthritis. Thomas investigated the molecular mechanisms of the gene HLA-B27, its role as it relates to illness, the effects of the gut microbiome on this gene and protein expression causing spondyloarthritis. “My overall experience at NIAMS was incredible. I made new friends and forged many professional relationships. I also learned a great deal about biomedical research, and more specifically, about spondyloarthropathies. The NIAMS Summer Student Program gave me exposures and experiences into translational research that could not be found at any other research lab or hospital in the country.”
Raissa Dantas, a rising senior and Meyerhoff Scholar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), is a native of Joao Pessoa, located in the Northeast region of Brazil. After graduating from UMBC, Raissa’s immediate plans are to pursue her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at a distinguished medical university. This past summer, she worked in the NIAMS Laboratory of Structural Biology, investigating the structure and role of viral assembly components with a focus on scaffold proteins. These proteins are crucial for the process of viral capsid formation. “My experience at the NIH was by far one of the best I’ve ever had, due largely to the wonderful team of scientists I got to work with—especially my mentor, Dr. Anastasia Aksyuk. I am very grateful for their time and investment in my scientific career and to NIAMS for giving me this great opportunity.”
Madison Dawkins is a native of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and will soon be a senior at The Baldwin Preparatory School in Bryn Mawr, outside of Philadelphia. Madison has been a participant in the Southern Methodist University-sponsored Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Preparatory (STEMPREP) program since the 7th grade. The mission of this program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority researchers in STEM, with a focus on students in grades 7-12 interested in the medical field. Madison has performed biomedical research every summer since she started STEMPREP, including spending summers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Thomas Jefferson School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a first-year summer student at NIAMS, Madison had the unique experience of working with the Clinical Program, and also undertaking a research project in the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch, led by NIAMS Scientific Director Dr. John O’Shea. During her internship, Madison focused her efforts on characterizing and elucidating the mechanisms underlying autoimmune diseases. “I had a wonderful experience this summer understanding how the NIAMS Clinical Program works to integrate translational science projects for the treatment of patients, and the importance of studying the fundamental mechanisms of autoimmune diseases. I had the chance to participate in weekly lab meetings and journal clubs and present my scientific project to my peers. This was a great experience, as this summer has increased my desire to continue to work towards my M.D. and Ph.D. in the future.”
Zainab Fatima is from Dallas, Texas, and is a rising sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas majoring in biochemistry. This summer, she worked in the Systemic Autoimmunity Branch under Drs. Mariana Kaplan and Luz Blanco. Zainab’s project focused on using genome-wide screening to identify novel therapeutic pathways in systemic lupus erythematosus. “My overall experience with the summer program was excellent. The NIAMS staff, my mentors and my laboratory were very supportive. The challenging but enjoyable research experience enhanced my desire to obtain an M.D. and Ph.D. specializing in rheumatology.”
Cara Fleming is a native of Weston, Connecticut. She is a senior at Boston College, majoring in biochemistry and minoring in Italian. Cara aspires to be a pediatrician, so she spent her summer working in the Translational Autoinflammatory Disease Section of the Pediatric Translational Research Branch under Dr. Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky. She compiled and analyzed pharmacokinetic data on the JAK inhibitor baricitinib, which is being used to treat children with a rare childhood disease characterized by inflammation and fat loss. “I am very appreciative of the opportunity to be exposed to the clinical aspect of translational research and see how these projects can lead to drug development, which can be life changing for people with rare diseases.”
Maryam Ghaderi will be a freshman at the University of Maryland this fall, majoring in bioengineering and film. Her future goal is to become a physician. With this in mind, Maryam applied to the NIAMS Summer Student Research Program to gain the needed experience in basic and clinical research practices. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and has lived in Maryland since age four. Maryam graduated with honors from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. This past summer, she worked with Dr. Sarfaraz Hasni, a staff clinician in the Office of the Clinical Director, investigating multiple clinical research projects involving patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Maryam’s project specifically investigated the pharmacokinetics of retinal toxicity in patients taking a drug called hydroxychloroquine, commonly known as Plaquenil®. “I enjoyed meeting and interacting with the various summer students and mentors as well as being exposed to the different and exciting facets of biomedical research. I hope to return in the future to continue this project and gain increased research experience.”
Jason Herritt is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is working to complete his degree in chemical engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Once Jason completes his degree, he plans to attend medical school and become a physician-scientist. During the summer between his freshman and sophomore undergraduate years, he wanted to experience biomedical research at an elite research institution. Jason applied to the NIH because he appreciated its “bench to bedside” philosophy and the translational research approach to scientific and medical discovery. He worked in the Pediatric Translational Research Branch under Dr. Robert Colbert. His summer project focused on investigating the role of a STAM1 mutation and its relationship to the disease ankylosing spondylitis. “This was my first time working in a basic research laboratory setting, and I learned many scientific techniques including sterile cell culture methods, polymerase chain reaction technology, cloning, immunoblot analysis, and flow cytometry. This was a great summer, and I am very enthusiastic about continuing on as a physician-scientist.”
Advait Iyer is from Potomac, Maryland, and a senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). He is also a distinguished Meyerhoff Scholar at UMBC with the future goal of becoming a physician-scientist. Advait was selected to work in the Laboratory of Structural Biology Research where he used cryo-electron microscopy as a tool to explore the nuclear complexion of the Influenza x-31 virus. The focus of his project was to determine whether virions containing solenoids are composed of RNA similar to virions that are composed of ribonuclear proteins. “My NIAMS summer experience, from meeting the Institute, Scientific and Clinical Directors, other summer students and all those affiliated with my lab, far exceeded my expectations. The sheer amount of resources and support made available to us not only surpassed some of my other summer research experiences, but made for very groundbreaking projects as well.”
Monil Mehta was a first-time NIAMS Summer Student and worked in the Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue under Dr. Martha Somerman. He is originally from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and will soon be a sophomore at The University of Tennessee, majoring in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology. He plans to pursue a D.D.S. degree and practice dentistry in an academic setting. Monil’s summer project was to investigate a newly established cementocyte cell line called CM6. NIAMS researchers are investigating this line to identify their functions and properties. “Overall, the summer program was a boon for my personal growth. I learned so many new things every day, and the people that I connected with through the program were all very genuine in their desire to help me grow and achieve my goals. The internship really allowed me to immerse myself in novel medical research at an institution that is considered the best in the world. I am extremely grateful to have received this prestigious opportunity.”
Maliza Namude is a junior at Harvard University, concentrating in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology. Her family is originally from Uganda. Maliza moved to the United States at age two and grew up in Potomac, Maryland. This summer she worked in Dr. Mariana Kaplan's lab in the Systemic Autoimmunity Branch under the mentorship of Carolyne Smith. Her project focused on the effects of immunomodulator drugs (used to treat autoimmune diseases) on the formation of neutrophil extracellular traps. “Overall, my experience with the NIAMS Summer Research Program was wonderfully enriching. I was fortunate enough to be in a lab filled with encouragement and support, and had access to advice from individuals from all paths of science. Additionally, the NIH is truly a unique institution that has a penchant for bringing together a diverse group of people, which in turn allows its interns to gain exposure to multiple facets of biomedical sciences—all the way from the proverbial bench to bedside. I hope to use this experience to build on my future goal of pursuing an M.D. and Ph.D., uniting my love of science with my passionate interest in patient care.”
Like Madison, William Tuifua also came to NIAMS by way of the STEMPREP program. Through this program, William has participated in basic biomedical research programs since the 7th grade. He is a native of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, and will be entering his senior year of high school. His future career goal is to earn either an M.D or Ph.D., or to become an engineer. “I worked in Dr. Alasdair Steven’s Structural Biology Lab. My project was trying to understand the role of the RHIM domain interactions among the proteins TRIF, RIP1, and RIP3 in the necrosome. My overall experience with the summer program was great. My mentors, Drs. Altaira Dearborn and Rick Huang, were very helpful and taught me a lot of useful techniques and skills. This program was a great opportunity for me to gain experience in the lab setting.”
Karinna Vivanco, of Peruvian descent, was born in Montgomery Village, Maryland. Her goal is to become a physician-scientist and combine engineering principles with medical design. Karinna is entering her senior year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Biological Engineering. She came back as a NIAMS summer student to continue her research project in the Laboratory of Muscle Stem Cells and Gene Regulation under the supervision of Dr. Vittorio Sartorelli. “My summer project was to identify the mechanism by which hyperactive methyltransferase Ezh2 induces a neuronal phenotype in mouse embryoid bodies. Through the NIAMS summer program, I have received great mentorship in a supportive environment and have grown as a scientist.”
Christopher Washington is a native of Chicago, Illinois, and a high school senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago College Preparatory High School. His plans are to obtain M.D. and Ph.D. degrees and become a physician-scientist in the field of immunology. Christopher was a first-time NIAMS summer student, and worked in the Laboratory of Structural Biology Research with Dr. Alasdair Steven. He received training from Drs. Altaira Deaborn and Rick Huang on his project, which focused on cloning, expressing and purifying recombinant RHIM domains from Zpb1 as a means of further understanding its function in apoptosis. It is hypothesized that the RHIM domains form functional amyloid filaments. “I had a very enjoyable experience at the NIAMS and NIH as a whole, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.”
Chelsea Willoughby, originally from Stow, Massachusetts, will be entering her senior year at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her career goal is to become a biomedical engineer who works with prosthetic/orthotic devices and tissue engineering. Chelsea returned to the NIAMS Summer Student Program to continue her work in the Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue Biology under Dr. Martha Somerman. “I worked on a mineralization sensitivity project where various tests were compared for mineralization detection. I also worked on a bone project, where I took tissue samples and performed quantitative analysis on the RNA extracted from the samples. This was my second time in the NIAMS summer program. I really enjoyed how much I learned in the lab and in the programs and lectures that occurred frequently on campus.”