St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf student awarded Harvard Stem Cell Institute internship

As part of her Harvard Stem Cell Institute internship, St. Olaf student Alexa Roemmich ’15 is working to grow adult mouse inner ear stem cells in a laboratory dish — something that has never been done before.

St. Olaf College student Alexa Roemmich ’15 is one of 40 undergraduate students from around the world selected to participate in the 2014 Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) Internship Program, which provides participants with a challenging summer research experience in a cutting-edge stem cell science laboratory.

Roemmich is spending 10 weeks in the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary laboratory of faculty member Zheng-Yi Chen, known for his research on age-related and noise-induced hearing loss.

Roemmich’s project this summer is to grow adult mouse inner ear stem cells in a laboratory dish — something that has never been done before — with the goal of persuading these cells to become the sound-converting cells that are lost in an aging or damaged ear.

“I’m working on a project that no one has succeeded at before,” Roemmich says. “It’s very exciting. I’m able to experience the scientific process in a very real way — my results are unknown, and any new result is something that can be learned.”

“I’ve had excellent opportunities at St. Olaf, and also from my summers at the University of North Dakota and the Mayo Clinic, that prepared me to design and carry out multi-week experiments,” she adds. “I cannot wait to continue my scientific journey in graduate school and beyond.”

Over the course of the HSCI program, interns participate in a stem cell seminar series, a career pathways presentation, and a weekly stem cell companion course. They present their summer research findings, both orally and in poster format, at an end-of-program symposium.

“This program represents an exciting opportunity for undergraduates to gain hands-on experience in stem cell research while working in an HSCI laboratory under the supervision of an experienced researcher,” says HSCI Internship Program Co-Director M. William Lensch.

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is a collaborative of more than 1,000 leading scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students who are affiliated with one or more of the university’s schools and affiliated hospitals and medical institutions, and are working to advance the understanding and use of stem cells in basic research and regenerative medicine.