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Students Learn About Research at PNDRI Through Summer Internships

Attracting and training the next generation of scientists is vital to the future of research. At PNDRI, we offer internships for science-focused high school and college students who want to learn about research firsthand.

This summer, we welcome Mirutse Heyesus, a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Tristan Demond, a senior at Lindbergh High School in Renton, and Kiki Boyle, a senior at Lakeside School.

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Mirutse Heyesus was a fifth grader at T. T. Minor Elementary School when he was chosen as a Rainier Scholar, a Seattle-based nonprofit which cultivates the academic potential and leadership skills of hard-working, low-income students of color, growing new generations of diverse college graduates, career professionals and community leaders. He now attends Occidental College in Los Angeles where he is a Biology major. “Rainier Scholars is still on my team,” he says. “They helped me find this internship.”

Mirutse works in the Dudley lab learning experimental techniques like purifying DNA and performing PCR (a process used to amplify DNA). Mirutse is also helping set up a system that uses wax moth caterpillars to test antifungal drugs. “First we infect them with a strain of pathogenic yeast, and then we try to cure them,” says Mirutse. “I know it sounds odd, but it is really interesting.”

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Tristan Demond heard about the internship through his high school AP Biology teacher. “I jumped at it,” says Tristan. “I knew it was for me.”

Tristan is working in the Galas lab. Like Mirutse, he is doing bench work that includes pipetting, gels, and experimental techniques with DNA. “I’m watching, learning, and taking tons of notes,” he says. In particular, Tristan enjoys the inspiration and education that he gets in lab meetings when scientists share with each other about projects.  “microRNA is breakthrough research and we are studying it here in this lab,” says Tristan. “It’s truly fascinating and I want to understand it all.”

Tristan hopes to go to the University of Washington for his undergraduate degree and eventually earn a Ph.D. and do research.

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Kiki Boyle, has a personal reason for applying to his internship in Hagopian lab at PNDRI. “Dr. Hagopian is trying to solve type 1 diabetes from many different angles,” he says. “And I have type 1.”

Kiki works on the TEDDY study, a 15-year longitudinal study which is determining the environmental triggers of type 1 diabetes. “It is fun seeing the kids who are part of the clinical trials,” says Kiki. "Their participation is very important." Kiki applies his aptitude with math and statistics to create graphs and charts using study data.

Kiki also collects science experiments that families can perform in the study’s annual open house, Science Day. “I found a great experiment where kids can extract DNA from fruit,” says Kiki. “Strawberries are octoploid which means they have eight copies of each chromosome so the DNA is easier to extract.” 

For Mirutse, Tristan, and Kiki, their experiences at PNDRI will help them decide what kind of careers to pursue, but they are not the only ones benefiting. “In addition to contributing to the lab’s research efforts,” says Principal Investigator, Dr. Aimée Dudley, “they bring an energy and enthusiasm that reminds us how much fun science is.”