Ellia Chiang ’25

Boston Children’s Hospital, Neurosurgery Department, Boston, MA

This summer, I worked at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Benowitz Lab, which focuses on optic nerve regeneration. In the central nervous system, optic nerve regeneration and growth is extremely limited after traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, strokes and degenerative diseases. The lab investigates combinatorial therapeutic models to re-establish connection in the central nervous system by focusing on the mechanisms of inflammation, trophic factors, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and signaling pathways involved in axon growth by studying mice models. I worked directly under Dr. Yuqin Yin, who in 2006 discovered oncomodulin, which is a calcium binding protein and a growth factor for RGCs, making it a major factor in optic nerve regeneration. In assisting Dr. Yin on her ongoing projects, looking at the effects of different growth factors and injury crush sites on optic nerve regeneration, I learned laboratory techniques involving immunostaining of whole-mount retinas, nerves and cells in order to quantify survival and regeneration. In continuation, I also learned nerve cryostat sectioning, axon and cell counting, fluorescence microscopy and imaging, retina dissection and DNA purification and extraction. I learned not only the details of the techniques but the purpose and concepts behind the protocols as well.

In addition to benchwork, I read literature and attended lab meetings and journal discussions. It seemed like every minute was a new opportunity to learn something new, whether it was a concept, idea or lesson in a conversation that I was having, a protocol that I was learning or seminar that was being held. For instance, there are a multitude of factors that can affect different mechanisms and constituent pathways of regeneration. Inflammation can induce regeneration, and so in understanding the underlying mechanism in which this occurs, this phenomenon can be isolated to identify the receptors and proteins so that survival can be replicated without the actual injury of the lens. This approach of identifying viable therapeutic options helped consolidate the way that I started thinking about experiments and scientific methodologies. I ended my internship putting together everything that I learned, starting from the first step all the way to the last in quantifying survival.

This experience gave me new skills and a detailed understanding of research and what working in a lab feels like. I was able to explore my curiosity in neuroscience further and apply it in a real-life setting through wet-lab research, observation and direct interactions and conversations. My goal in working in medicine remains the same, and as I consider future career paths, working in the Benowitz Lab has not only helped solidify my passion working in science and medicine but has also influenced my decision to work on a thesis project my senior year. In addition, Dr. Yin and other lab members have been helpful in giving me advice on future career options, and I am excited to explore and learn more.

I had a wonderful, enriching experience, and I would like to thank the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for providing this opportunity this summer.