Juan Peticco ’21

Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Neurology, Neurovascular Research Unit,

While my time this summer doing a remote internship for the Chung Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) was not what I or my PI would have predicted, it proved to be a very formative and fascinating experience for me. The Chung Lab is housed within the Division of Gastroenterology and studies viral and non-viral hepatitis, which includes the viruses HBV and HCV as well as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) and other related liver disorders. The lab’s focus is in fundamental and translational research in liver disease pathogenesis. This summer, I was able to work with one of their post-docs reading several papers concerning the use of animal models to study the YAP/TAZ pathway. The YAP/TAZ pathway is a subject of interest in the study of cirrhotic liver disorders as it is responsible for cell maintenance in response to fat storage. An accumulation of excess fat in the liver can lead to the development of toxic compounds which put stress on the liver.

While I was originally meant to help plan, conduct, and troubleshoot experiments on mouse tissues to study the effects of YAP/TAZ suppression, my time this summer was spent conducting a literature review on existing research surrounding this pathway in order to develop a better grasp of what other researchers have been doing to study this pathway. Although I would have greatly enjoyed working with my hands and collecting data, I feel that conducting a literature review served to put into context the work that I would have been doing in the lab. When one is knee-deep in data and experimentation, it can become rather difficult to “see beyond the trees” and to understand exactly how it is that the work that you are doing is fitting into a broader context. Reading about studies done by different groups of people, you begin to see how each published paper serves as just one piece of a larger puzzle. From the literature work I have done this summer; I have developed a strong understanding of the effects of the YAP/TAZ pathway on liver health and metabolism. Studies show that the inhibition of YAP/TAZ can be a potential drug target for treating fatty liver disease as it has a hand in cell-contact inhibition, cell proliferation, and tumorigenesis. As a pre-medical student, research skills are an invaluable asset to my prospective career as a physician and being able to absorb existing information in order to better inform my own procedures and studies is an important part of any physician’s toolkit.

As a result of this internship, I have a deepened understanding and interest in GI sciences and hepatology, and I will be able to take my newfound interest in cell biology to my future coursework in the biology major.

I would like to extend my thanks to the Kraft Family for their generous support. I am excited to see how my experiences this summer will inform my future education and career.