From Cancer Research to Robotic Reactions: Summer 2020 Hutchins Scholars Have it Covered

From medicine to robotics (and in the midst of a world-wide pandemic!), Lawrenceville’s Hutchins Scholars completed an incredible summer of research. 
The Hutchins Scholars Program provides select students with substantive research experiences, prepares them for leading university science programs, and ultimately, it is hoped, inspires them to pursue science-related careers. As Fourth Formers, they enroll in a research science class, which will prepare them to conduct independent research and, if appropriate, to compete in a national science competition. This allows students to deepen their understanding of scientific research based on practical, real-world experience while giving them the ability to explore their passion for science outside of the classroom. The Program gives them entry into some of the world’s most prestigious scientific laboratories, where they do meaningful research with top scholars.
The Hutchins Program, which also provides need-based financial aid to those Scholars who qualify, is made possible by a $5 million contribution given during the School's Bicentennial Campaign by Glenn '73 and Debbie Hutchins.
The summer 2020 research projects were:

Harrison Abromavage ‘21
Dr. Hien Dang, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University
This past summer, I had the pleasure of working alongside a Research Unit of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, which specialized in the study and research of Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC), also known as liver cancer. The most common form of primary cancer in the world, HCC accounts for 80 percent of liver cancer related cases, and is often diagnosed in late-stage development, making its study crucial to the development of diagnosis and prognosis methods. The focus of our research was the DICER1, a cytoplasmic endoribonuclease that cleaves post-transcriptional microRNAs into mature RNA, and therefore a crucial step in gene expression regulation. CRISPR Cas-9 technology was used to knock out the DICER1 gene from the HUH-1 cell line, and was then compared to an empty vector in order to determine the effect of DICER on specific gene pathways using gene set enrichment analysis. It was determined that the DICER KO has a unique effect on expression of the gene HNF1A, responsible for regulating the growth of the liver and also thought to act as a tumor suppressor gene.
Breanna Barrett '21
Dr. Sangbin Park, Dr. Seung Kim Lab, Stanford University of Medicine
My summer 2020 Hutchins Scholar project involved working virtually with Dr. Elizabeth Fox (Lawrenceville’s Director of Student Research) and Dr. Sangbin Park, at Stanford University’s Dr. Seung Kim’s Lab, performing genetic research. Using transgenic fruit flies’ genes, I was able to research the genes, such as PAK2, ARAP1, Kindlin-2, and TENM4 – each associated with Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance.  This will enable us to create RNA lines later on, which would silence them (target and turn off the genes) in order to study the effects this will cause. In addition, I was able to improve my scientific research skills by learning the various programs, websites, and structure of presenting research articles.
Alper Canberk '21
Mengxi Li and Dorsa Sadigh, Stanford Intelligent and Interactive Autonomous Systems Group (ILIAD), Stanford University
Imagine a robot performing a manipulation task next to a person, like moving the person’s coffee mug from a cabinet to the table. As the robot is moving, the person might notice that the robot is carrying the mug too high above the table. Knowing that the mug would break if it were to slip and fall from so far up, the person easily intervenes and starts pushing the robot arm down to bring the mug closer to the table. In this work, we focus on how a group of robots should then respond to such physical human-robot interaction.
Cherie Fernades '21
Dr. Joshua Gold, Perleman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
A mathematical framework developed by British code breakers in WWII incorporates the cryptanalytic process of Banburismus, in which a decision about the nature of a cipher is reached when the weight of accumulated evidence hits a preset threshold value. Research tying Banburismus to the human brain suggests that this model of decision making may also apply to the neural computations responsible for forming categorical decisions about sensory stimuli.  Thus, a team at Gold Lab is working to design a bound height psychophysics experiment that seeks to determine how individuals tasked with making a decision set bounds on information input when instructed to optimize speed and accuracy, potentially helping to fine-tune our understanding of the drift diffusion model in perceptual decision making.
Gabe Gaw '21
Dr. Vakhtang Tchantchaleishvili, Jefferson University Hospital
I'm working with Dr. Vakhtang Tchantchaleishvili's medical students on a project to determine the effectiveness of the dor procedure (a heart procedure which uses a circular suture and a Dacron patch to correct left ventricular aneurysms and exclude scarred parts of the septum and ventricular wall). Throughout the project, we extracted and compiled necessary data from over 100 research papers, and analyzed the data we collected through statistic models to evaluate the effectiveness of the procedure.
Caitlin Gu '21
Dr. Hien Dang, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer, accounting for 80 percent of total liver cancer cases. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that function in post transcriptional RNA silencing by complementary binding to its target messenger RNA (mRNA) and repressing gene expression. DICER1 is a cytoplasmic endoribonuclease that cleaves premature miRNAs into mature RNA, acting as a crucial modulator of mRNA expression. DICER knockout was compared with an empty vector control to determine the effect of DICER on specific pathways using RNA sequencing and gene set enrichment analysis. It was concluded that DICER KO led to the increased expression of the homeostatic process pathway in HCC cells, suggesting that DICER may be a potential oncogene.
Houston Kilby '21
Dr. Xin-Liang Ma, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University
I worked remotely in Dr. Xin-Liang Ma’s lab at Thomas Jefferson University, where they are studying cardiovascular disease and the mechanisms responsible for ischemia/reperfusion injury. I met weekly with Dr. Yajing Wang, and presented papers that I read that week on the topics in cardiovascular disease that she assigned. She helped me to identify important concepts like the role of small extracellular vesicles, the endocrine system, and Caveolin in the development of cardiovascular disease. She also explained essential concepts to science research, from why scientists use certain animals for research to the value of conferences across different medical fields, which was really helpful for me to gain a perspective on what it is really like to be a researcher in her field.
Matt Laws '21
Dr. Nestoras Karathanasis, Computational Medicine Center, Thomas Jefferson University
Alex Liang and I worked together under Dr. Nestoras Karathanasis to find connections between miRNA and diseases. miRNA are short non-coding strands of DNA about 18-22 bases long that help regulates gene expression. We used the programming language of R in an editor called RStudio to construct our code. The ultimate goal was to text mine through abstracts from a biomedical papers database called PubMed, and use the program to draw accurate conclusions. We were relatively successful in our endeavor creating a working program, however, our recall and precision still need some work. In conclusion, while our code is far from complete we provided a good building block for Dr. Karathanasis to work off of and hope our program will be able to help him out in the future.
Alex Liang '21
Dr. Nestoras Karathanasi, Computational Medicine Center, Thomas Jefferson University
The constantly updating PubMed database contains thousands of unsorted and complex abstracts that researchers cannot possibly read through. In order to continue innovation using the newest and tested procedures, doctors, scientists, and corporations need to read and synthesize every addition to the literature. Using text-mining tools and functions, our program reads, extracts, and filters text files containing PubMed abstracts to produce six pieces of information per abstract: the disease, miRNA, their relationship, PMID, organism, and country. The end product is a data table with rows containing the concise summaries and key features of thousands of abstracts, with each abstract taking approximately a second of processing through our software for extraction.
Ethan Markel '21
Dr. Sangbin Park, Dr. Seung Kim Lab, Stanford University School of Medicine
My online work with the Stanford Hutchins Scholars began by learning to navigate the GWAS catalogue, flybase, and NCBI, as well as learning how to cover scientific literature methodically. Having done so, I delved into the Kbtbd2 gene involved in the insulin-signaling pathway in mice, and in the process learned a little bit about mice biology. The last few weeks were spent researching and selecting gene candidates which Dr. Park would then knockdown in Drosophila and report results to us in the fall. After much trial and error researching several genes, with Dr. Park’s help, I selected PHGDH.
Soleil Saint-Cyr '21
Dr. Sangbin Park, Dr. Seung Kim Lab, Stanford University of Medicine
In conjunction with Dr. Seung Kim's laboratory at the Stanford University School of Medicine, I researched the function of the JAZF1 orthologue in Drosophila melanogaster as it relates to the insulin resistance pathway.
Kylan Tatum '21
Dr. Sangbin Park, Dr. Seung Kim Lab, Stanford University of Medicine
This summer, I participated in a virtual internship with Dr. Elizabeth Fox (Lawrenceville’s Director of Student Research), Dr. Sangbin Park at Stanford University’s Seung Kim Lab, and three other Hutchins scholars. I first examined the pathways underlying type two diabetes through scientific papers, exploring genes associated with type 2 diabetes such as MKLN1 and GCK, before diving deeper into MKLN1 and thrombospondin-1, two genes I hypothesized would be involved in type 2 diabetes. We will then silence these genes, observing their effects on the insulin signalling pathway. While I love the lab work involved in science, being able to really dive into scientific literature and data analysis has significantly expanded my scientific interests. I look forward to analyzing the collected data and presenting the findings to our community.
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