For what may be the last time in my working life, I could have chosen to do absolutely nothing this past summer. For those of us studying to be doctors, whether our patients will be human or animal, the summer after our second year of school is famous as the last unstructured summer for the foreseeable future. Maybe ever. But instead of sleeping in and playing video games, I took advantage of my free summer in a different way. I signed up for the Georgia Veterinary Scholars Program (GVSP), an amazing program that provides an introduction to the high-energy space where veterinary and human medicine intersect in biomedical research. From May until August, I was part of a group of 15 vet students, two from Tuskegee, one from Grenada, and the rest from UGA . We were assigned to work with top scientists in their labs, we visited other labs and research facilities, and at the end of the summer, we all traveled to Cornell University to present the results of our research project. Here is the website for GVSP:
My project focused on using stem cells to regenerate bone after a fracture. We were trying to find out what is really going on in the “Fracture Putty” (an experimented gel containing the stem cells) that we use to heal weight and non-weight bearing fractures in mice, sheep, and hopefully humans in the future. We know the putty helps heal broken bones, but we are not sure exactly how it works. We also know the stem cells secrete bone morphogenetic proteins, which we call BMP-2 in the lab. And we know that this protein is an osteoinducer, a signal that recruits some of the patients own stem cells to the fracture site and turns them into bone cells. But we were not sure whether the stem cells in the gel itself were also turning into bone cells.
Below is a picture taken by researchers in the “Regeneration Bioscience Center” here at UGA before I arrived this summer. The red circle marks where the “Fracture Putty” was injected into a mouse’s thigh muscle 14 days before the image was made. Clearly some bone is forming, which a fascinating discovery to me.
Figure 1 : 2.6 x 10^6 human umbilical MSC were transduced with 10 MOI of BMP2 lentivirus and injected into the left leg of NOD/SCID female immunocompromised mice. Right leg was used as a non-injected control and mouse was x-rayed after 14 days. (January 2014)
At the end of the summer, the results I hoped to see came up inconclusive. But it is perfectly fine because I do not feel upset or have any feeling of worrying, which is what I struggle with during school time. The truth about research is that most experiments don’t work, and people who choose a life of biomedical research must deal with disappointment over and over again. This summer, God is blessing me right now because I am seeing myself slowly conquering the feeling of worrying. So, although my results came out inconclusive, I still feel like I have just been through a victory.
The big finale for the GVSP is a trip to Cornell University to present our posters at a national research symposium hosted by Merial, a major veterinary drug maker, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Over 200 research students from across the country presented for 4 days at Cornell.
I honestly felt a little nervous presenting my work. Guys, as a singer, I have performed in front of thousands of people at concerts- and I admit I still get nervous to this day. But this was different, standing before an audience as a scientist, not a singer. Now I’ve experienced two different species of stage fright, thanks to GVSP. And I can tell you that Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University, lives up to its bumper sticker: “Ithaca is Gorges.”
Cornell’s beautiful gorges
Here’s me in front of my poster