Making Ground in Stem Cell Research

Originally posted: February 15, 2012

Tina Udhwani and Tim Fallon

When Tim Fallon ’12 walked into the human cellular pulmonology research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Regenerative Medicine to begin his 2010 summer internship, he felt a little intimidated. The research program, which partners with scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is charged with studying cells in the lungs with the hope of making advancements in the treatment of chronic lung disease.

But Fallon jumped in alongside other interns from Harvard and soon discovered he had nothing to fear. “Having had hands-on experience with my professors at Rollins and the opportunity to do research alongside them amply prepared me for this internship,” said the biochemistry and molecular biology major. “I was definitely academically on par with the other interns in the lab; Rollins is competing quite well with Harvard.”

The following summer, fellow Rollins student and pre-med major Tina Udhwani ’12 joined him in the lab where they continued in the same vein—studying the interactions the cells of the lung have with each other and their environment. No stranger to lab work, Udhwani had previously participated in the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program with Assistant Professor of Biology Susan Walsh when they studied the identification of proteins interacting with zebrafish Miro in 2010.

During the summer, Fallon’s projects focused on better understanding the cellular interactions, which regulate the adult stem cells of the tracheal epithelium. Udhwani’s projects revolved around investigating the somewhat neglected mesenchymal cells, which underlie the epithelium, and she also worked on developing a new way of delivering drugs solely to the trachea and lungs.

While months of research didn’t produce any earth-shattering discoveries for Fallon and Udwani, the experience was something that immensely invigorated their love of scientific research. “I learned that science has a lot of strikeouts the majority of the time,” Fallon said. “But I loved the intellectual atmosphere and the time I spent doing hands-on experiments. That’s the true way to learn science.”

“It was a lot of work—sometimes 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Udhwani, who is now considering going to medical school in Boston. “But it was worth every second I spent there.” A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Boston was the furthest north Udhwani had ever been.

For Fallon, he’s weighing two choices at the moment: accept the full-time position that was offered to him at the lab or pursue a PhD. Whichever road he chooses, this internship will be an experience he’ll never forget.

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