Jill Parsons ’23.5

Boston University and Boston Medical Center, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Boston, MA

This summer I worked at the Wilson Lab, researching the genetic causes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). This lab operates in the Center for Regenerative Medicine, which is a unique partnership between Boston University and Boston Medical Center that is on a short list of centers that focus on differentiating patient-derived stem cells as a means to better understand or develop a therapeutic intervention for conditions that we currently do not have a treatment for. The Center for Regenerative Medicine has an open-source biology approach guided by four main principles that emphasize collaboration, sharing and safety.

Jill Parsons using a microscope. My project at the Wilson Lab centered around COPD, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. It was mainly thought that only smokers were at risk of developing this disease, but with so many cases seen in non-smokers, it became clear that there is a strong genetic aspect to this disease that may be overlooked. A key candidate gene linked to COPD is called Hhip, and I compared lungs of mice with zero, one or two copies of this gene to determine if this gene impairs normal lung development. I used the techniques of immunohistochemistry and fluorescent imaging to visualize the cell types present in the lung. I then used computer software to quantify the number of positive cells and ran statistical tests to determine if there was a difference between the tissues of the mice. Near the end of the internship I presented my findings to the lab in exchange for feedback on possible future directions and tips for refining the quantification process.

I was interested in being in a lab setting this summer to explore scientific research as a career path. Going in I didn’t know much about the landscape of the industry or any of the paths I could take to achieve my goal of starting my own lab. Since the Center for Regenerative Medicine is home to multiple labs, I was able to be around people working on a range of projects who were at various points in their careers. I was also able to gain insight into the field of scientific research and learn the unspoken or more nuanced inner workings of it. Throughout the Center all were eager to answer any questions I threw their way or direct me to someone that could. I was debating whether I should go right into a Ph.D. program or if I should take some time off before applying for grad school. I mentioned this to my PI, who immediately connected me with the Ph.D. students throughout the lab. They told me that those who were most well-adjusted took some time off while those who tended to struggle went straight into it from graduation. Overall, this internship afforded me the technical skills that I needed after missing out on key time in the lab due to the pandemic, and I am very grateful.