Interns Discover New Passions and Career Paths

Research intern Mark Alonzo spent the summer studying a protein-coding gene that may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

William Parks, PhD, professor of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, associate dean for Graduate Research Education and scientific director of the Women's Guild Lung Institute with research intern Sophia Idso. Idso won an award for her poster.

Mark Alonzo, a biological sciences graduate student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, spent the past several weeks in the Cedars-Sinai Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics interning with Dennis Hazelett, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences, and Jasmine Plummer, PhD. Alonzo was studying the protein-coding gene RCCD1 and its potential role in increasing the risk of ovarian cancer.

Commenting on this complex research project, Alonzo said, "I had a blast of a summer."

That blast came courtesy of the Cedars-Sinai Research Internship Program. Launched in 2014 by Academic Programs in Human Resources, the Research Internship Program gives undergraduate, graduate and medical school students an opportunity to participate in research with faculty mentors. During the past academic year, nearly 175 interns from U.S. and international institutions contributed to research in 11 departments across Cedars-Sinai.

For budding scientists ages 16 to 18, the Minors in Research initiative was created in 2016. The seven-week program pairs high school students with faculty mentors who provide hands-on bench experience conducting scientific studies. This summer's session included 27 interns; eight worked with investigators at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute and 19 interned with faculty organizationwide.

Both internship programs culminated on Aug. 3 with the Fourth Annual Research Internship Program Poster Day held at Harvey Morse Auditorium. Some 50 interns presented their research projects to members of the academic community and an expert panel of judges.

"The quality of posters is just outstanding. In fact, this is one of the best poster presentation events I've ever attended," said William Parks, PhD, professor of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, associate dean for Graduate Research Education and scientific director of the Women's Guild Lung Institute.

One such quality poster belonged to Fordham University second-year pre-med student Sophia Idso, who was one of three Research Internship Program poster winners. Idso was mentored by Armando Giuliano, MD, executive vice chair of the Department of Surgery for surgical oncology and a professor of Surgery, and Hisashi Tanaka, MD, PhD, associate professor of Surgery.

"I have never had such an amazing experience," said Idso, whose project focused on the ability of statins to decrease tumor proliferation. "The best part was meeting my mentors. They gave me so much insight and knowledge about how to conduct research."

The two other Research Internship Program poster winners were: Virginia Chan, from the laboratory of Dmitriy Sheyn, PhD, assistant professor of Orthopaedics; and Giovanna Curci Regis, an intern in the laboratory of Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, PhD, associate professor of Neurosurgery.

Katherine Samuel, who is 17 and starting her senior year at Campbell Hall High School, was one of three Minors in Research poster winners. Mentored by Melodie Metzger, PhD, assistant professor of Orthopaedics, Samuel's project assessed a new surgical approach to repairing traumatic shoulder fractures. "My favorite thing about this experience has been discovering new passions and gaining career-path direction," she said.

The two other Minors in Research poster winners were: Jiho Kim, mentored by Alexander Ljubimov, PhD, professor of Biomedical Sciences and director of the Eye Program at the Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute; and Justin McCaskill, an intern in the laboratory of Sanjeev Kumar, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences, Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute.

Benjamin Taylor, 17, ended the summer session with career clarity. "By getting hands-on research experience and direct mentorship, I confirmed that I do want a career in biomedical science. That's something I didn't know when I started this summer," said Taylor, whose mentor was Moshe Arditi, MD, professor of Pediatrics and Biomedical Sciences and director of the Infectious and Immunologic Disorders Translational Research Center in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

Poster participants consistently expressed how much they valued their Cedars-Sinai internships. Julia Levy, whose mentor was C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, medical director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center and professor of Medicine, put it this way: "What I valued most was the team I worked with at the Women's Heart Center." Levy, who is currently applying to medical school, added, "Everyone is really intelligent, kind and always willing to teach you something."

Manisha Chaudhary, program manager in Academic Programs, sees the internship programs as mutually beneficial. "These programs support our teaching mission and are a pipeline for the next generation of scientists," Chaudhary said. "Not only does the field of biomedical science benefit, but also Cedars-Sinai when some of these talented individuals return and are hired into research and clinical roles that ultimately enhance patient care."

For more information about internships, visit the websites of the Research Internship Program and the Regenerative Medicine Institute's High School Outreach Program.