Bio-chem major spends summer training with Stanford Cardiovascular Institute
While most students awake at 2 a.m. over the summer are probably in the middle of a late-night TV binge, aspiring medical scientist Darlene Ferrer was tuned into a different program. For 10 weeks in between semesters, the junior chemistry and biology major virtually attended the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute studying cardiovascular science and exploring a potential career in cardiovascular research.
Ferrer learned about the institute’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program from a peer mentor, and following a competitive application process, she was one of 20 students selected for this year’s cohort.
The program, held virtually this year due to the pandemic, included lectures on cardiovascular science, workshops on research writing and presenting, seminars on professional development, and opportunities to meet with admissions teams from graduate programs.
“Within the first six weeks, I read a lot of articles to really grasp the theories of the disease and the techniques used for the project,” Ferrer said. “My mentor and the lab manager would then send me cardiac cell images and zebrafish heart videos to remotely analyze using a computer program. Though I wasn’t able to experience a true wet lab at the institution, I was still able to contribute to the ongoing project by analyzing the data and sharing my results.”
The majority of Ferrer’s training took place in the Cardiac Muscle Research Laboratory under the mentorship of instructor Seema Dangwal. She assisted in a research project titled “The Functional Role of Exosomes in the Pathogenesis of Cardiac Light Chain Amyloidosis.”
“Participating in this program made me more aware of my interests in cardiovascular health,” Ferrer said. “Seeing the importance of translational research developed my aspirations of becoming a physician-scientist.”
While she was unable to physically attend the program and meet her cohorts and mentors in person, she said the program environment and the coordinators were very supportive, and the online nature of the program encouraged her to network and build connections.
Another helpful aspect for Ferrer in the summer program was the training she’s received as a scholar of Portland State University’s multi-year BUILD EXITO research mentorship program. Her experience as a BUILD EXITO scholar taught her to write an abstract and prepare an oral presentation of her research, which was part of the end-of-the program symposium with Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and the American Heart Association.
After graduation, Ferrer plans to apply for medical scientist training programs or pursue a research-integrated doctorate in medicine.
“I really want to come back to Guam afterwards and help improve the health care here — by bringing in more research knowledge and providing my services to the community,” she said.