Summer Interns Share their Experiences

By Kate McDermott, staff writer
Young scientist looking at well plate.

The future of brilliant scientific curiosity and discovery was on full display in August when 12 student interns presented their work during the NCI Frederick Werner H. Kirsten Summer Intern Research Symposium.

Moderated by Bala Kuppusamy, Ph.D., staff scientist at the Laboratory of Cell and Developmental Signaling, the event was held virtually again this year. Nearly 60 attendees joined remotely to hear the young scientists and communicators explain their internship projects while fielding challenging questions about their hypotheses and processes.

These interns presented their work:  

  • Valeska Zitta worked in the Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory under mentors Jaeho Yoon, Ph.D., and Ira Daar, Ph.D. Her presentation covered her research on how the cullin 3 ubiquitin ligase complex regulates ephrin-B2 degradation.
  • Naman Jani worked in the Laboratory of Cell and Developmental Signaling under Kuppusamy, his mentor. His presentation focused on the comparison of different culture conditions to develop a laboratory model for breast cancer cell emboli formation.
  • Aishwarya Balamurugan worked in the Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory under the mentorship of Jairaj Acharya, Ph.D. Her presentation addressed the generation of a lipase mutant using CRISPR/Cas9 genetic modification in Drosophila (fruit flies).
  • Reed Fliegel worked in the Partnership Development Office at the Frederick National Laboratory under mentor Victoria Brun. He covered his work on communications and messaging for the PDO.
  • Alison Murphy interned in the Chemical Biology Laboratory under her mentor Joseph Barchi, Ph.D. Her presentation was titled, “Enzymatic O-glycosylation of Various Tandem Repeat Peptide Sequences from a Mucin Overexpressed in Pancreatic Cancer.”
  • Raeann Kalinowski worked in the Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory under mentor Erin Davies, Ph.D. Her work focused on determining the effects of modulating Wnt pathway activity on regeneration and embryo development in Schmidtea polychroa flatworms.
  • Roni Madilo interned in the PDO, working with his mentors Vladimir Popov, Ph.D., and Victoria Brun. He discussed his work in support of the Federal Lab Education Accelerator (FLEX) program, a group that seeks to improve collaborations between federal laboratories and entrepreneurs.
  • Luke Ostendorf-Snell worked in the Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory under mentor Matthew Anderson, Ph.D. He analyzed FGF signaling redundancies in axis formation.
  • Sania Yanpallewar interned in the Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory under Acharya, her mentor. She presented her work on the Crispr/Cas9-mediated deletion of the Serinc gene in Drosophila.
  • Yoksha Muruganantham worked in the Mouse Cancer Genetics Program under her mentor Pradip Bajgain, Ph.D. She shared her work with engineering NK-92 cells with bispecific T-cell engagers (BiTEs), a method for connecting white blood cells to malignant cells, for cancer immunotherapy.
  • Abigail (Abbie) Macher interned under her mentor Jeff Gildersleeve, Ph.D., in the Chemical Biology Laboratory. Her work focused on creating a bovine serum albumin tetramer to probe interactions between glycan molecules and antibodies.
  • Jane Brown worked in the Cancer Innovation Laboratory under Wolf, her mentor. She presented her work, “Dynamically Tracking ECM Utilization in 3D Tumor-Spheroid Models.”

Brief recap of keynote addressHoward Young, Ph.D., a senior investigator and long-time mentor in the Kirsten program, expressed high praise for the interns. “I was very impressed by the sophistication of these talks,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to see such excellence in science happening here in Frederick. You make the NCI at Frederick better.”

Walter G. Hubert, Ph.D., director of the Scientific Program in the Office of Scientific Operations at NCI Frederick, also commended the students for their hard work and curiosity. “This was a wonderful round of presentations,” he said. “It is amazing that high school students can do this. I am very optimistic that cancer research will make progress with you.”

As the program wrapped up, Carrie Wagerman, WHK SIP program coordinator in the Office of Scientific Operations, took a moment to acknowledge the contributions of the unsung heroes of the Werner H. Kirsten program. “Thank you so much to the mentors,” she said, “because without you, these internships would not be possible.”