Mentoring the next generation of scientists

Dr Itinteang with our recent summer students. Left to right: Sabrina Koh, Hugo Humphries, Therese Featherston, Dr Tinte Itinteang, Claudia Paterson, Shanella Nallaiah, Min Yi Lee.

Running a laboratory isn’t just about pioneering new research. It’s also an opportunity to foster the talents and enthusiasm of future scientists.

Every summer we host up to six students, mostly medical undergraduates, for a summer studentship — a 2-month placement that gives them hands-on experience in a working laboratory. Much of their previous learning is theoretical, so they’re ready to embrace the challenge of practical experiments.

Alone or in pairs, they test a hypothesis that we set them. After reading and researching about the topic, they get started on the practical work, collecting and analysing data to test the hypothesis. Our research staff oversee what they’re doing to make sure everything runs smoothly and is done to a high standard. The students give weekly presentations at the GMRI’s research meetings — this gives the team a chance to critique their work. The students then write up their findings into what’s often their very first scientific paper to be published in an international peer-reviewed journal.

While the summer studentship programme is a big opportunity for the students, it’s important for us too. We get the chance to meet, mentor, and help build the next generation of scientists. ‘Getting to coach them, getting to watch them grow — nurturing them — is very rewarding,’ says Dr Tinte Itinteang, the GMRI’s Chief Scientific Officer. ‘Credit goes to the students, of course, first and foremost, but you can never underestimate the effort of the GMRI team. It’s that combined effort that culminates in the student having a complete piece of work that they can wave proudly with their name on it.’

The GMRI’s summer student programme is supported by Sir Roderick and Lady Gillian Deane. We are very grateful for their involvement.

Sabrina Koh makes progress in understanding Dupuytren’s disease

Sometimes, one of our summer students makes a discovery that gains international attention. Last year, Sabrina Koh made an important discovery about Dupuytren’s disease — a condition that can cause the fingers to contract and lose function, and that has no satisfactory treatment.

While investigating diseased tissue samples from Dupuytren’s patients, Sabrina discovered a unique group of stem cells around the tiny blood vessels. Previously, the common assumption was that Dupuytren’s disease arose from the hand tissue itself, but Sabrina’s findings suggest that these stem cells may in fact be the cause of the common disease. 

All our students make valuable contributions

Whether making leaps in insight or gradually progressing our sum of knowledge, our students always make valuable contributions. Last year, Hugo Humphries, Claudia Paterson, and Min Yi Lee investigated keloid scarring (lumpy, excessive scar tissue). And Therese Featherston and Shanella Nallaiah did work to progress our understanding of skin cancer of the head and neck. These students are currently writing up their results.