Hannah Stillman ’23

Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, 
Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Cambridge, MA

This summer I worked in the lab of Clotilde Lagier-Tourenne through the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts 
General Hospital’s Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases. My lab’s work focuses on the biological and genetic mechanisms underlying Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). I worked closely with the post-doctorate scientist Dr. Ana Rita Quadros whose work centers on the investigation of TDP-43 pathology, an RNA binding protein which moderates the expression of many proteins including STMN2. TDP-43 aggregations are found in the cytoplasm of neurons in many patients with ALS. STMN2 has been discovered to be an important downstream factor affected by the nuclear loss of TDP-43.

I got great values after my first solo RNA extraction.

While I assisted with many of Dr. Quadros’ projects, the two main projects that I worked on included collaborating with Jackson Laboratories to develop mouse models for ALS and characterizing TDP-43 pathology in other disorders besides ALS, using postmortem brain tissue. Working on these projects, I learned how to perform tissue homogenization, RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, qPCR, gel electrophoresis, immunofluorescence and western blot. I was also able to practice my presentation, procedure writing, data analysis, and scientific reading skills. My mentors within the lab encouraged me to think deeply about what the data meant and discuss thoroughly with peers.

All of these skills, soft and hard, I feel will serve me very well in the future. I now feel much more confident in my ability to develop projects and procedures to test my questions. Additionally, I feel I have learned how to perform a lot of useful procedures for genetic work which I am hoping to put to use in my Williams lab work and when I create an independent study project in the Spring. I think having these new skills will really prepare me for success in my future research and give me lots of options on how to pursue questions I have. I also made lots of connections with successful scientists who taught me about how the industry works and how to best pursue a career in science and medicine. I believe I have made lasting impressions on those I worked with and hope to keep in contact with them in the years to come.

This internship didn’t really shift my career path, but having worked full time in a lab for months did reassure me of my path. I think that long-term I wouldn’t be happy to only work in a lab, but am hoping to pursue research opportunities as a physician. Additionally, I was exploring the possibility of performing research in my gap year before medical school. I now feel much more confident that I would enjoy and excel at performing research for a year. I am excited that I feel I have made a significant impact in the lab and hope to be published for my work this summer.

I would sincerely like to thank the Kraft Family and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for making this internship possible. It was an incredible experience.