Burke Lieppman at Harvard Medical School

For a little over three months I was fortunate enough to have an internship at Harvard Medical School. I worked for the Scehpen’s Eye Research Institute in the Lab of Michael Young. His lab only specializes in the retina, having two key goals in mind, first being retinal neural protection, and the second being retinal regeneration. I was given a project that dealt with retinal regeneration, but got a firm understanding of the protection side through observation and helping some of my coworkers. The research in this lab is on the cutting edge of technology because they work heavily in stem cells and have literally any resource available to them.

My project dealt solely with human retinal progenitor cells, which are simply cells that are on the verge of making their final developmental decision on what they will differentiate into. My goal was to take these cells and treat them with a chemical called DAPT and provide a suitable culture environment as see an increase in the differentiation of photoreceptor cells and a decrease in the proliferation. The big picture goal for a successful outcome of this project would be to transplant these differentiated cells into the ocular tissue of a patient who had dead or damaged photoreceptors. Theoretically these transplanted cells would stimulate the growth of new photoreceptors and eventually help the patient restore vision. Obviously there is a lot more that goes into the big picture goal, but I felt like I got to take part in a small piece of it with my contributions with the use of the chemical DAPT. At the end of the summer I had successfully achieved my goals seeing an increase in differentiation and a decrease in proliferation. My methodology consisted of a number of techniques including flow cytometry, RT-PCR, fluorescence microscopy, and cell culture. Even though I got good results, I wish I would have had some more time to try other methods and make new discoveries.

I really enjoyed working in the lab. The post docs I worked for were brilliant for one, and they were all very helpful in mentoring me and giving me confidence to further my academic goals in science and medicine. The one thing I appreciate that they did was gave me the independence to explore any avenue regarding my project. They let me try new things and valued my opinion when it came to moving the project forward. They threw me right in the fire and really made me stretch to better my knowledge and understanding stem cell research. I spent a lot of time in the lab, usually around ten hours a day, sometimes the occasional really late night, but it was well worth it.

Not only was the lab a fantastic experience, living in Boston was equally amazing. It is a vibrant city full of young people that likewise have similar goals whether it be in science or business or anything for that matter. I was told there are something like over 200 colleges in the greater Boston area and half of the population of the city are all students. SO there are a lot of people you can relate to. The social life and history of the city has got to be number one in the country for me, but maybe I’m a little biased. I really enjoyed going to Boston, not knowing a single person. For me it was a great way to find myself and truly solidify future goals. It got me right out of my comfort zone and challenged me in so many ways, and I feel like when that happens, a lot of self progression takes place and you come out of the experience a better person. I would definitely recommend doing something similar for anyone who has an opportunity to do so.