Visiting student from Pomona College, California. Jennifer spent 9 weeks on a programme at the LA Biomedical Research Institute (LABiomed) in the Ibrahim lab, combining research with exposure to hospital medicine.
I was a research intern in the Infectious Diseases Department of the LA Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor UCLA, which is geared towards students interested in medicine and medical research. The work in the lab was quite clinically orientated and I took part in medical rounds with doctors. I joined residents and infectious diseases fellows on the discussion of patient cases and ward rounds. The programme included a variety of research projects and I was offered a choice upon my arrival.
In the Ibrahim lab, I worked on the development of a vaccine and effective diagnosis for mucormycosis, an infection commonly caused by the Rhizopus orizae fungus. Patients who are immuno-compromised such as those with HIV, leukaemia and diabetic ketoacidosis are especially susceptible to the infection, which can often be fatal. To characterise monoclonal, antibody-producing hybridoma cell lines, I conducted a range of experiments such as optimising cell growth conditions, purifying and testing antibodies via ELISA, FACS analysis/flow cytometry and THP-1/spore killing assays, and inducing neutropenia in mice. My work was part of the long-term goal of the lab to identify which antibody was the best against the fungus, scale up its production, and take it into clinical trials. I successfully identified which antibodies were most effective at binding CotH3-a crucial R. orizae surface protein-and initiated mass purification.
I have had a lot of experience working in basic research settings. My degree at Pomona College has involved several periods of research during the year. In addition, I interned in an 8-week summer project in a protein crystallography lab at Penn State University and worked for two other summer internships at my home institution on the evolutionary origins of adaptive immunology and Drosophila axon guidance mechanism. Currently, I am at Oxford as a third-year visiting student, combining courses in Biochemistry and Neuroscience with neurogenetic crystallography research in a STRUBI lab. Because my home institution overseas is an undergraduate-focused liberal arts college, I would not have had the opportunity to undertake a project involving such advanced and high-technology facilities.
I think the LABiomed programme can be a very helpful experience-not only for students going into medicine, but also for those who are interested in more clinically-oriented research.
Overall, I would recommend students going to other countries for internships. In fact, they shouldn't be afraid to look for labs they are interested in and contacting the lab PI. I was looking for cancer-related research online when I found out about the opportunity at LABiomed. The funding came with the research application acceptance, which more than adequately covered living expenses, and would probably also cover travel costs for those who need it. I applied mid-January/beginning of February- but note that the deadlines for US programmes can be as early as December, running through to March.
As for my future plans, I would like to go to medical school and pursue an MD or MD/PhD in the US or here at Oxford University.