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Bio-Med senior Sydney Severt

Student Feature: An Early Entry into a NEOMED Lab

High school isn’t too early to start doing scientific research — not if you’re a student at Bio-Med Science Academy, the STEM high school on the NEOMED campus. The close proximity means that selected students have the opportunity to do internships with faculty researchers in the areas of Community-Based Mental Health Research, Hearing Research, Heart and Blood Vessel Research, Musculoskeletal Research and Neurodegenerative Research and Aging.

Bio-Med senior Sydney Severt is doing an internship with Dana Peterson, Ph.D, an associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology at NEOMED. Sydney began her internship over the summer with a team of researchers and has continued it for the 2018-19 academic year.

What are you working on with Dr. Peterson?

I’m working on a research project to see how the human body ages. It’s called “Histology across the Human Lifespan: A Photographic Atlas Project.” We’re taking tissue samples across the different age groups and then we’re going to be looking at the data and trying to determine what the tissue looks like as it ages, in the different organ systems.

What is Dr. Peterson’s goal for the project?

The end goal is to make an online textbook that shows students how tissue in the human body ages over time in the different organ systems. Currently, there’s no resource like that for medical students. They learn about a lot of pathological changes and see tissue samples in books, like pictures in histology books, but sometimes they aren’t even human tissue samples — they’re animal tissue samples that are just close to what human tissue samples look like.

Dr. Peterson’s online textbook will show actual pictures taken with microscopes. Students will be able to look at them and get a good example of what tissue looks like as it ages over time.

What are you specifically working on?

I get to go down to the Portage County Coroner’s office and decide what tissue I want to take out, and they’ll give me the tissue block. I bring it back here to NEOMED, I cut it, I put it on a slide, and I stain the slide, I microscope the slides, and I quantify the slides. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Can you explain what you mean by, ‘’quantify the slides?’’

I use a computer program that allows me to select areas on the tissue to count different cells. The program takes into account the cell shape, size, and color, and gives the number of a certain cell type in the designated area. We are counting for myocytes and fibroblasts in 10 random areas on each tissue sample.

You sound like you know a lot of research terms now. Over the summer, when you started this internship, what was it like adjusting to the lab environment?

Originally, I didn’t know if I was going to like working in a lab because I thought I would rather work with people. But it’s really gratifying to work with your hands and see research and actual results come from what you did yourself in the lab. It’s a lot of fun.

Have you learned about any research opportunities for NEOMED students?

At the end of the summer, NEOMED holds a research symposium by students who participated in the Summer Research Fellowship program. They’re selected to participate in research projects with faculty members, and they get paid for it. We all made posters explaining our research. At the symposium, people walked around to view everyone’s poster and hear everyone present the research and answer questions for anyone who wanted to learn about it.

I had never been to a NEOMED symposium before, and I didn’t realize just how many students there were conducting research over the summer. We filled a big room with posters and students wearing white coats. Mostly this was students from the College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy and College of Graduate Studies. There were also some undergrads.

How do you think this internship will help you later on?

I really enjoy this internship, and aside from learning about all of the actual results of the research project, it’s been an incredible experience for learning the basics of lab work. I’m getting so many hours of experience by doing this hands-on work that in my freshman year of college I’ll already be competitive to be chosen to do research. That’s really the end goal for me. I want to be conducting research in my time as an undergrad, and this internship is preparing me.

Liam Martin, a senior at Bio-Med and an intern in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed this story.