Clarissa Nunez
Clarissa Nunez, an undergraduate biochemistry major at NMSU, interned this summer in the research lab of Dr. Taran Gujral at Fred Hutch. Gujral’s lab studies signaling networks to advance drug discovery and uses for cancer treatment. | Photo by Robert Hood/Fred Hutch

NMSU students work alongside renowned cancer researchers in Seattle

After a grueling year of virtual lab meetings, online classwork, and redefining research methods for a socially distanced world, seven students from New Mexico State University (NMSU) packed their bags for Seattle and a much-needed summer of in-person research experiences.

Making the Pacific Northwest their home for the summer, each of the NMSU students were placed in the research groups of award-winning scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. For nine weeks, the students received hands-on training in cancer research areas spanning basic science, public health, human biology, and clinical research.

The students, six undergraduates and one graduate, were part of a larger cohort of 26 total students from around the nation to participate in the Fred Hutch Summer Undergraduate Research Program and be placed in the labs of Fred Hutch scientists. The paid internship experience for NMSU students is supported in part by the Partnership for the Advancement of Cancer Research a federally funded partnership between NMSU and Fred Hutch.

The NMSU interns (and their Fred Hutch mentors) include Ella Cano-Linson (Megan Othus, Public Health Sciences), Cecy Corona (Salene Jones, Public Health Sciences), Toteona Gray (Christopher Li, Public Health Sciences), Katalina Lopez (Kevin Cheung, Public Health Sciences), Ester Lujan (Chris Kemp, Human Biology), Clarissa Nunez (Taran Gujral, Human Biology), and Nicholas Soliz (Brandon Hadland, Clinical Research).

After the cancellation of many internship programs last summer due to COVID-19, the NMSU students were more excited than ever to join the ranks at Fred Hutch.

“It felt good to be back in a lab setting,” said Nicholas Soliz, an undergraduate student studying chemical engineering and biology. “I had research (at NMSU) in the engineering department, but it was very limited due to the COVID pandemic.

“Going back into the lab, it was more hands-on, more close quarters with people. It brought back a really good culture that I missed; the bantering between one another, the laughs, the learning from each other, it’s just something you can’t get from online learning.”

Throughout the summer experience, students work with their mentors to complete an independent research project while simultaneously participating in a series of professional development sessions, scientific seminars, and networking events.

For Clarissa Nunez, an undergraduate biochemistry student, her placement in the Gujral lab meant a bustling summer carrying out experiments in cell migration and signaling pathways from beginning to end.

“The most memorable part for me was just how much I was taught,” said Nunez. “I feel like two months for a summer internship, it doesn’t seem like a lot, and it doesn’t feel like you’re going to get quite as much done as you can, but I really feel like I was given such a great opportunity in this lab to just learn any and everything that was thrown at me. The postdoc I was working with gave me that opportunity to learn from her, and do it myself, and do the analysis.

“(The lab) really had me going within the first few weeks. None of my time there felt wasted in any way – it felt like everything I was doing was productive and I was getting something out of it.”

Graciela Unguez, NMSU Regents Professor and PACR co-director, said this internship program is a standout opportunity for NMSU students because of the variety of research opportunities and the depth of skills they provide.

“The research labs open to host our NMSU students span five divisions with research focus on fundamental sciences, public health, and development of new treatments and diagnostics,” said Unguez. “Very few summer research programs have choices of research labs that study every aspect of the disease process from the cell level to the population level.

“Summer research programs are specifically designed to teach students how to think scientifically, design experiments, troubleshoot, and solve problems. Our students get to experience what research should be like working next to a PI or a research mentor who can also provide insights into careers in science and/or medicine and learn to develop good professional relationships.”

For more information on the partnership or the summer internship program,click here.

Author: Kaitlin Englund – NMSU


For updates on all news from around Las Cruces and Southern New Mexico, please visit our news partners at Las Cruces Today