This summer, I had the opportunity to intern in the Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. I worked in the lab group of Dr. Lee Denson which investigates inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): specifically, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. When choosing a research project for the summer, at first, I had no clue what department I wanted to intern in. Finally, after struggling to find one that really piqued my interest, I chose the Gastroenterology (GI) department because my family members have experienced GI disorders. I wasn’t sure what to expect, however, once I started my job, I knew that I had made the right decision.
IBD is an inflammatory disease in the intestinal tract. Up to 80,000 children and 3 million adults are reported to have IBD in the U.S. It is caused by an overactive immune system. When homo sapiens first evolved, their diet had a lot of dirt and bacteria in it. Because of this, an overactive immune system in the gut was necessary to keep the human alive. However, nowadays our diets are much cleaner. Most food is processed and or/cooked, which eliminates a lot of bacteria from our diets; therefore, we don’t need an overactive immune system anymore. When this occurs, it is a problem. An overactive immune system causes recruitment of immune cells into the gut leading to normal tissue damage which is painful, can block digestion and lead to numerous health problems. The Denson lab works on understanding the genetic pathways that cause this overactive immune system and one day hope to develop gene therapies to treat this.
My favorite part of working at Children’s was all the people I met. The members of the Denson lab group were very patient with me. They also answered my questions, even if the answers seemed obvious to them. My mentor, Erin, is a senior research assistant and was especially helpful in showing me the ropes and directing me around the lab. I loved eating lunch with my lab group and members of the lab groups on our floor and hearing them talk about their own research and their own lives. Honestly, I think that if my lab group had been a different group of people, I would have had a much different experience. This group truly made me enjoy my job.
Overall, I learned so much from this experience. Although parts of my project did not end with a perfect result, I still gained a lot of knowledge and acquired new technical skills during my time at Children’s Hospital. Working in a lab gave me the experience of a research career, but I also learned a lot about myself during this time. I’ve always been worried that one day I would enter the workforce, wouldn’t find a job that I love. and I’ll be forced to take a boring job that I hate. However, this internship showed me that there are jobs out there that I really do love, such as research.
Connie Nelson is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.