By Catherine Buren
Macrophages may be involved in protecting against invading pathogens and tumor cells; conversely, they can be also be activated to release excessive quantities of proinflammatory and cytotoxic mediators that actually promote tissue injury. When a foreign agent enters the body, macrophages commonly appear to ingest these antigens and process them as a means of protecting the body. Macrophages are also known to play a role in the regulation of inflammation. This summer, I researched the effect of certain genes and proteins on the mechanisms of pulmonary injury after exposure to chemical warfare agents and toxic air pollutants. This article is a documentation of my experiences in the research lab I worked at and how the experience has changed my outlook on the field of research.
This summer, I conducted research for 8 weeks in the Inflammation Research lab at a large research university. In May of 2018, I was accepted into a highly selective STEM internship program offered to high school juniors and seniors. Through this internship, I was given the opportunity to conduct research for a distinguished professor over a duration of 8 weeks. During my summer research experience at this university, I worked over 40 hours per week, 5 days per week. I collected and processed histological data through the application of research procedures such as immunohistochemistry staining and BAL protein quantification, alongside 4th-year Ph.D. candidates, Post-Doctoral fellows, and lab technicians. These people were excellent resources for me because I frequently asked questions about the biology behind the research methods I was employing. My research focused on studying the effects of chemical weapons and toxic air pollutants on the lungs, and the role of pro-and-anti-inflammatory macrophages and targeted genes, receptors, and surfactant proteins in regulating inflammation in both acute and chronic pulmonary injury and fibrosis. The methods I used enabled me to obtain the results needed to draw conclusions about which pharmaceutical drugs were successful in targeting the negative health effects of the air pollutants. We found that two of the antibodies we tested were successful in targeting the fibrosis after exposure to the toxic agents. At the conclusion of my internship, I presented the results of our research to other university professors, peers, and mentors in a research symposium, and wrote a research paper to detail the work I contributed to this summer. This experience was valuable in that I gained important exposure to hands-on laboratory research, which would not have been made available to me until my second or third year of college. Next summer I hope to return to the lab, or, if accepted, explore new opportunities within the STEM field by working in other lab facilities.