Name: Vanessa Shehu
Class Year: 2022
Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Internship Organization: University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM)
Job Title: Undergraduate Translational Research Intern
Endowed Internship Funding Award: Maxine L. Savitz 1958 Science Policy Internship Fund
What’s happening at your internship?
I worked with Sanjeev Chawla, Ph.D., in the Department of Radiology. Dr. Chawla’s lab studies MRI and MR spectroscopy for the evaluation of patients with head, neck, and brain tumors. I assisted on Dr. Chawla’s research with glioblastoma (GBM), a rare but aggressive brain tumor in adults. GBM is highly resistant to chemoradiotherapy, and the median survival is 12-15 months. Unfortunately, the current imaging criteria in neuro-oncology fail to detect the nuances of this disease, rendering treatment response difficult to assess accurately.
My main project was to contribute to a literature review to be published by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. I also contributed to a meta-analysis with Dr. Chawla. This was my first formal research experience, so I was speechless when Dr. Chawla invited me to be a co-author!
Our review has a two-fold focus: to research experimental MRI modalities that can improve upon treatment assessment, and to compile clinical trials testing immunotherapy on GBM. Given GBM’s rarity and dismal prognosis, clinical data is scarce, so our goal is to increase the knowledge base. I analyzed findings from approximately 75-80 reviews, meta-analyses, clinical trials, and randomized-control trials. Given my background in biology, Dr. Chawla allowed me to take reins on the immunotherapy research.
Why did you apply for this internship?
I plan to pursue a career as a physician-scientist after college, and I knew this internship would help get my foot in the door of clinical research. I was eager to work at Penn Medicine because it holds an important place in my heart. When I was in high school, my grandmother Xhevrie was treated at Penn for lymphoma. Since my grandmother’s remission, I have learned a lot about cancer, and I hope to work in a dedicated community like Penn Medicine. In the pursuit of medicine, there is seldom an igniting force as powerful as a life-changing experience enabled by dedicated doctors, nurses, researchers, and other members of the medical team.
Was there anything special about how you found this internship?
I was eligible through a partnership between PSOM and BMC, among other local colleges including Haverford and Swarthmore. I recommend that BMC students apply to internships like TRIP with a smaller pool of applicants aimed at our students.
What is something you have learned from your internship that you didn’t expect?
I learned that the mentors are eager to help interns get as many benefits to our education and career from this internship as possible. Initially, I was intimidated by my PI Dr. Chawla and the guest mentors involved, but they are eager to provide a reference or a conversation to discuss career goals. As long as you are diligent and seek guidance, they will respect you as a student-in-training and as a valuable colleague.
Visit the Summer 2020 Internships page to read more student stories.