Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Summer Internship Program 2019

The End of My Internship!

In the final weeks of my internship, I have been able to insert epithelial cells from the stomach into the organ chip. It was really exciting to be able to see how the stomach cells grow and attach differently in comparison to the neural cells.

I’ve been able to learn so much this summer! One of the most important skills I was able to develop was how to work with mice in research. I also enjoyed learning what a career in neuroscience research is like. I’ve also learned that persistence and resilience are very important qualities to have when completing research. A lot of times, experiments don’t go as expected and it’s really important to have the persistence and motivation be able to analyze and improve experiments. I’ve also learned how important it is to make connections with other interns. Developing relationships in the lab is so important to both professional and academic development. I’m so thankful to have these connections and am excited to maintain them during the upcoming semester.


Below, I’ve included my top five internship advice and tips! I’m so thankful for this experience and am so grateful for the Dickinson Internship grant.

1. Apply to internships that interest you. Regardless of where you end up interning, the experience will be so much better and you will be able to learn so much more if you’re interested in the field.

2. Be engaged during your internship. Make sure to ask as many questions as you can, and try to learn as much as possible. Sometimes, tasks aren’t super exciting– try to make the most of them and think about how you can apply them to life at Dickinson, or how you will talk about what you’re doing in a job interview.

3. Document what you learn. A blog can be a great way to do this. Personally, each week I made a google doc. of what I was doing and what I had learned. I know that this is going to be super helpful to return to when applying for jobs.

4. Be open to critique. You’re at your internship to learn. Many supervisors and coworkers are happy to help to refine your skills or learn new ones.

5. Maintain any connections you make during your internship. Be sure to stay in touch with co-workers, and supervisors after your internship ends.

Internship Update and Advice

I can’t believe I’m more than halfway finished with my Summer Internship! So far, I’ve had so many positive and productive experiences in the lab and have been able to learn so much. In the past few weeks, I’ve continued to remove the nodose ganglia from different strains of mice, and have been working on perfecting their stability inside the organ-on-chip. So far, I’ve noticed that the cells, even after they have been digested, have been too large to place in the apical channel as originally planned. My PI, Dr. Kulkarni, and I were able to video chat with the producers of the chip located in Boston and ask for advice on how to better insert the nodose ganglion cells into the chip. The producers suggested placing the cells in a different channel– the basolateral channel, as it is larger than the apical channel. So far, this technique has been working better. Hopefully I will soon be able to insert epithelial cells from the gut into the chip to recreate the gut-brain axis. 

Image of digested nodose ganglion cells ready to be inserted into the chip.

Throughout this internship, particularly in the past two weeks, I’ve noticed and gained an appreciation of how important collaboration is in the field of research and academia in general. After interviewing my PI, Dr. Kulkarni, last week he emphasized the importance of collaboration and sharing ideas in research. In the past, the research used to be a field where collaboration was limited. However, today science has evolved into being a much more productive field when collaboration occurs. Just this past week in my lab, I’ve been able to witness the benefits of discussing ideas with fellow lab members. A post-doc in the lab recently was completing a large project, which would have taken considerably longer and may not have even been possible without the help of other post-docs and researchers in the laboratory. I’ve also noticed how crucial lab meetings are each week. This is a time where each member in the lab presents what they have completed in the last week, and can receive feedback from other members in the lab. Without this time, it would be much harder to improve research and grow as a laboratory and a scientific community. 

I’ve enjoyed my internship so far! For students considering working in a lab over the summer, I would advise applying to as many internship programs as possible. However, these are super competitive– usually, thousands of students apply for a program where only ~20 positions are available. Therefore, I would also recommend reaching out to PI’s (principal investigators) at different research institutions and universities explaining your interest in their research and inquiring about any available positions in their laboratory. Thankfully, because of the Dickinson Internship grant, you don’t have to worry about financial compensation from the laboratory. This will allow you to find research that interests you!

Learning in the Enteric Neurobiology Laboratory

The past two weeks of my internship have been really exciting. One of the things that I’ve been working on is removing the nodose ganglion from different strains of mice. This is located behind the vagus nerve, just on top of the skull. Learning to remove it was challenging as it is very small and breaks very easily. The best way to locate it to find the trachea of the mouse, and then locate the carotid artery. The Vagus nerve usually lies next to the artery. I was able to use a teaching microscope to learn how to do this. Once removing the nodose ganglion, I digested and cultured the cells. Next week, they will be grown in the organ chip. Experiments completed this week with the nodose ganglion have been used to prove that the cells can be successfully digested and cultured. The next challenge in this project will be to see how well they will be able to be grown in the organ-chip described in my previous post. 

using the teaching microscope with another undergrad in the lab. 

When I’m not working on this project, I’ve been learning about other lab members projects and assisting in those. This week, we did immunohistochemistry on stomach tissue. I’ve also been getting better at working with mice. I’ve learned to remove samples of RNA and protein from the guts of the mice, which will be needed later on this year for experiments in the enteric neurobiology lab. I recently was able to attend an entire day of seminars about cancer and the GI system. This was very interesting and relevant to my research as I study the connection between the gut and the brain. This was also super interesting to connect to what I’ve already learned about cancer on a cellular level in my classes at Dickinson.

Finally, I’ve been loving living in Baltimore. It’s a lot of fun living right next to the Johns Hopkins Campus. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the National Aquarium located in the Inner Harbor area. I’m about halfway through my internship and have already learned so much, and can’t wait to see what else I learn this summer.

My First Two Weeks

My name is Ali Leiter and this summer I am working as an undergraduate researcher in the enteric neurobiology department in the gastroenterology unit at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. This has been made possible by Dickinson’s Internship grant. I will be working on various projects, however my primary interest is creating a chip composed of cells that could replicate the gut-brain axis. This chip could potentially start to replace mouse-models that many laboratories use to conduct research. This summer, I will be working with mice to better understand the gut-brain axis. In the past two weeks, I’ve been making media to grow cells in, and making different solutions that preserve intestines and brains. Additionally, I’ve been completing a lot of research on the gut-brain axis in order to better understand the interactions between the two systems and the neural circuitry involved in their communication.

My lab is located in the Ross Research Building

My internship is located in Baltimore, Maryland. In my free time, I love going for runs around the city or hanging out with my roommates. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to explore the inner harbor area. There are so many good restaurants and interesting shops that I can’t wait to go back to. Transportation is super easy in the city too as Johns Hopkins provides a shuttle to all students, faculty and staff that can bring you all around Baltimore. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to see more places. Baltimore is very different from Carlisle– however, I’m excited to visit more places and get a better sense of the city.

I am so thankful for this opportunity, and can not wait to see what I am able to accomplish this summer!

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