I had the exciting opportunity to work in Dr. Mitchell Lazar’s lab at the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism at the Perelman School of Medicine. The experience taught me how to perform new laboratory techniques, how to interpret data, and how to communicate science more effectively.
In the Lazar Lab, we study the molecular mechanisms that contribute to obesity. Obesity is a highly prevalent disease which affects almost 1/3 of adults in the United States. Immune cells, including macrophages, have been shown to contribute to obesity and its sequela in mice, and correlate with obesity-induced insulin resistance in humans. However, we do not know how these cells interact with their environment.
Adipose tissue macrophages are known to secrete extracellular vesicles, nanometer-sized vesicles which originate from the endosomal system and are a mechanism for intercellular communication. These extracellular vesicles contain microRNAs, small, non-coding RNA molecules that bind to a specific target mRNAs resulting in translational regulation. As a result, microRNAs are recognized drug targets as interfering with or mimicking their action could have beneficial effects in various disease states. My project focused on identifying and characterizing microRNAs that are secreted from adipose tissue macrophages. I utilized in vitro reporter systems to screen potential targets for microRNA binding.
This project made me more excited about the field of medical research, and the ultimate goal of identifying therapeutic targets that can help to prevent or treat human disease. I learned how to ask scientific questions, how to analyze data and present it effectively, and how to adapt to the project not always progressing in the manner expected. It was particularly exciting to directly translate concepts I have only read about in biology classes to the lab bench and to understand how to adopt a hands-on approach to science.
I am really grateful for the opportunity to learn more about science outside of the classroom and for the mentorship and support I received from everyone in the Lazar lab. I would absolutely encourage anyone interested in research to get involved as an undergraduate.