Rebecca Marton, (ND class of 2014), describes her experience as an undergraduate researcher in the Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Notre Dame impacted her decision to pursue a doctoral degree in the Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (SCBRM) Program at Stanford University.
“My experience as an undergraduate researcher at Notre Dame both inspired and prepared me to pursue a career in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. I first began conducting researching on retinal regeneration in Dr. Hyde’s lab during my sophomore year. Immediately upon starting work in his lab, I was impressed by the extent to which undergraduate students were incorporated into all aspects of the research process and by the responsibility we were given over our projects. In the Hyde lab, I learned the fundamentals of experimental design, data analysis, and scientific writing. However, the most valuable lesson I learned as an undergraduate researcher at Notre Dame extended far beyond just the application of the scientific method. Indeed, my time at Notre Dame taught me to remember that -- throughout all of the trials and tribulations of the research process -- the most important goal of our scientific undertakings is always the betterment of the lives of those suffering from disease.
In keeping with Notre Dame’s mission of service, the ultimate goal of our research was to discover basic principles of retinal regeneration in order to find cures and therapies for ocular diseases such as macular degeneration. Although we used the zebrafish as a model organism, the human implications were never far from our minds. During such events as Notre Dame’s Vision Walk to fund eye research, we had a chance to meet real people suffering from eye diseases, and this helped us to keep our attention on the larger mission of our research – to be of service to others. In fact, the human-centric focus of stem cell biology research at Notre Dame inspired me to pursue my Ph.D. in the Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (SCBRM) Program at Stanford University.
The SCBRM program focuses on conducting basic research that is translatable into clinical therapies. Within this program, I am a member of Sergiu Pasca’s lab, where our goal is to better understand the basic biology of neuropsychiatric disorders and to develop future therapies. We collect skin cells directly from patients suffering from diseases such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. We then reprogram these skin cells into stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSCs). From these iPSCs, we create 3-dimensional masses of interconnected brain cells in vitro that recreate certain aspects of early brain development. This allows us to study ways in which brain development differs from patient cells. We ultimately hope to use our 3-D tissues to identify changes in brain development that can be corrected by therapeutic intervention and to discover new drug compounds.
Each day I wake up excited to go to the lab and work to better the lives of people living with neuropsychiatric disorders. My experience as an undergraduate researcher at Notre Dame not only provided me with the skills and experience necessary for undertaking these projects but also taught me the importance of remembering the ultimate goal of our research in service to others. Thanks to my experience at Notre Dame, I hope to pursue a career in academic research to continue this mission.”