University of Washington, Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease, The Hawn Lab, Seattle, WA
I spent the summer working as part of the Hawn Lab through the University of Washington. The lab studies differential immune responses to tuberculosis, with the hope to identify important pathways that might be potential targets for host-directed therapies (HDTs) to improve treatment success of active tuberculosis. My summer project was remote data analysis due to the pandemic. The data set was collected from participants in Uganda who had been exposed to TB both through close household contacts and from community spread. The data from Uganda looked at individuals over the course of 10+ years who had been repeatedly exposed to tuberculosis, identifying those who were infected with latent tuberculosis (LTBI) and those who never showed signs of infection at all, termed “resisters.”
I was given 17 candidate genes that had appeared interesting in earlier research the lab had done, and I analyzed every single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) for association with differential expression of two cytokines that are known to be important to tuberculosis immune response. From these analyses, looking at both the overlap of categories and percentage of SNPs in the gene that were significant for each output, I found three different genes into which I proposed further research should be done (CACNA2D1, FRMD6, and LYPD3). During the last week of the internship, I presented my findings alongside Elisa Kodama, another summer intern who had been doing a similar project but with different candidate genes, and with whom I worked closely while learning the skills and troubleshooting our data analysis scripts.
This internship helped me think more deeply about different ways to be involved in public health. Through discussions of the career paths of many different lab members, I learned that they were all driven by the desire to help others, but also to leave a more lasting impact than one can by only doing clinical work. I have long wanted to become a doctor, but recently have been thinking about ways to do that in addition to public-health-conscious work. Many members of the lab had both MDs and Ph.Ds., so they were able to do clinical work a few times a week, while working in the lab the rest of the time. This was a career path I had never considered, but that I began to think about due to the way it combines my interest in interacting with patients, but also leaving a lasting impact. Additionally, this internship opened my eyes to the prevalence of tuberculosis in the world today, even though it is a preventable and curable disease. I found the biological reasons behind this fascinating, as well as understanding more about the direct impact of the disease on communities in which it is prevalent, and the unequal distribution of the burden of tuberculosis on these communities.
I truly gained a lot from the experience that I hope to continue to build on and appreciate that I was still able to participate in this opportunity despite the ongoing pandemic. I would also like to thank Dr. Tom Hawn for welcoming me into his lab, and Dr. Jason Simmons for helping to guide me through my project all summer.