Our interns: specialists in the making

Tessa Pilkington, Claire Luke-Krishnan and Jazmean Williams.

We love working with our interns and fostering the next generation of scientists and medical experts. They contribute to our wide range of research on cancers and other conditions. This year we have had three interns outside of our usual summer studentship programme, with Tessa Pilkington, Claire Luke-Krishnan, and Jazmean Williams joining us for four months. We’ve asked them questions about their internship experience.

Tessa investigates head and neck metastatic malignant melanoma

Tessa investigates the presence of the renin-angiotensin system in head and neck metastatic malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of cancer. Understanding the role of the renin-angiotensin system in the development of this cancer may enable us to come up with a more effective treatment.

Tessa wants to specialise in issues that are emerging as we live longer, such as cancer, and how we might halt or reverse natural degeneration as our cells age. 

What are the highlights of your internship?

Observing how a project develops and comes together, and having the fantastic wealth of knowledge of the staff to draw from. 

What have you found challenging?

The transition from university learning to biomedical research, and integrating ideas and concepts from multiple viewpoints into my writing while maintaining my own creativity. 

Claire investigates the stem cell origin of arterio-venous malformation

Claire’s project investigates the cause of arterio-venous malformation — a challenging form of vascular birthmark that consists of tangles of arteries and veins. This involves taking sections of arterio-venous malformation tissue samples and conducting tests to see if stem cells are present.

Claire had just finished her Bachelor of Science degree at Otago University. She will go overseas in September to start her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree.

What are the highlights of your internship?

Highlights so far have been applying all my knowledge from university and getting the opportunity to significantly add to it. Here, I’m around people who are so experienced and knowledgeable, but also willing to help me learn and collaborate with me where possible, which has been invaluable.

My time at the GMRI has developed my skills of critical analysis and data interpretation, and emphasised the importance of drawing from previous research to guide potential future work.

This experience has definitely made me more aware of how much effort goes into conducting medical research. This research plays a fundamental role in ensuring that science is constantly evolving and improving.

What have you found challenging?

What I initially found challenging was knowing how to interpret and present data in the most efficient manner. But with the help of the GMRI team, I have learnt how to prepare a research paper for publication and explain the wider implications of its findings.

Jazmean researches the cause of port wine stains

Jazmean’s project investigates the presence of stem cells in port wine stains with discolouration of the skin. The affected skin gradually becomes thickened and can form nodules which can bleed. Currently port wine stains are treated with laser therapy, which needs to be repeated many times, often under general anaesthetic. Typically, only about 20% of the patients with port wine stains can be completely removed after repeated treatments. We’ve identified the presence of stem cells in port wine stains.

Jazmean comes from Drexel University in the United States. She’s currently a final year biomedical engineering student and she wants to specialise in tissue engineering. She specifically seeks to focus on developing a method to regenerate neurons (brain cells). This could be used to repair neural pathways damaged by different diseases and accidents. 

What are the highlights of your internship?

Learning more about stem cells and their implication in diseases has been a big highlight for me. I am very interested in stem cell research and its possible applications for the treatment of diseases. So, it’s cool to get the other side of the coin and how stem cells can also be implicated in diseases as well.

What have you found challenging? 

The most challenging part for me has been learning how to write like a scientist. I’ve had practice before in my university classes, but it’s different having to apply it in a real world situation.