Weill Cornell Medicine internship allows chemistry major to continue NIH work

Ashley Kim ’19 spent her summer with researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, working on research that could help doctors determine what role proteins play in the progression of disease.

Kim, a chemistry major and Tanner Dean’s Scholar in the College of Arts & Sciences, received a Tanner Dean’s summer research grant that helped to pay for her living expenses while she worked with Dr. Zhen Zhao, who was recruited to Weill Cornell Medicine as an Associate Professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and is a pathologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“Her research is at the discovery stage and could have impacts on the ways physicians diagnose and treat diseases,” Kim said, adding that her summer work involved studying pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, a condition that associates with high blood pressure and damage to other organs, including the liver and kidneys.

Zhao and her collaborator, Dr. Yen-Michael Hsu, who is also an Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Director of Laboratory for Advanced Cellular Engineering and a pathologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, are working to identify biomarkers and develop methods to evaluate the potency of stem cells for transplantation to fight disease.

During the summer, Kim worked with Zhao and Hsu on a study that validates a diagnostic assay that can predict the potency of hematopoietic stem cells and transplantation outcomes. She also helped in the discovery of novel biomarkers by mass spectrometry to identify the selected high-quality stem cells that could be tested in the future clinical trials.

This is Kim’s second summer working with Zhao. Last summer, Kim was selected by the highly competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) Summer Internship Program. In 2017, more than 7,500 completed applications were submitted, and about 1,350 interns were selected. They worked together at the NIH on the pre-eclampsia project.

“Ashley generated very solid and promising data to confirm our discovery results,” Zhao said. Her data were also included in an abstract, which was selected as a podium presentation at the Association for Mass Spectrometry: Applications to the Clinical Laboratory’s 10th annual conference earlier this year She is also writing two manuscripts with Zhao and Hsu based on the data she generated in the past two summers.

Kim said the research allows her to combine her interests in chemistry and biology and her desire to work on projects directly applicable to patient care. Her days included lab work, data analysis, literature review, as well as online research into clinical applications and their associated costs and efficacy.

“The experience opened my eyes to the many different things I could do with my degree,” said Kim, who plans to attend medical school after graduation.

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