St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf student awarded Harvard Stem Cell Institute internship

St. Olaf College student Oleksandr (Sasha) Dmytrenko stands in Buntrock Commons.St. Olaf College student Oleksandr (Sasha) Dmytrenko ’17 has been selected to conduct cutting-edge stem cell research this summer through the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) Internship Program.

Dmytrenko will spend 10 weeks in the laboratory of Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Vijay Sankaran. Sankaran and his colleagues are studying hematopoiesis, or blood cell production, in order to develop potential treatments for blood diseases.

Dmytrenko, who received funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career for the internship, is looking forward to the active role that he will play in such important research.

“They really want to get the student involved in all of the aspects of the project,” he says. “The lab is very interested in me actually learning and doing things.”

An essential component of Dmytrenko’s work is modern genome editing through the CRISPR/Cas9 system, a powerful tool for modeling diseases and testing drugs. Dmytrenko explains that it is “unusual for an undergraduate student to work on a project of this scope and to use techniques this novel.”

What excites Dmytrenko most about the HSCI internship, though, is the opportunity to collaborate with Sankaran, who holds both Ph.D. and M.D. degrees. As a student planning to become a physician-scientist himself, “working with someone who is bridging two fields is an amazing experience” for Dmytrenko.

“I would like to combine the fields of clinical medicine and basic science in my profession, which I believe allows researchers to better guide their research toward patient needs,” he says.

Dmytrenko’s participation in research projects at St. Olaf has prepared him well for the HSCI program. Through the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, he and St. Olaf Professor of Biology Eric Cole spent a summer studying the single-cell organism Tetrahymena. “I was exposed to molecular biology, microscopy, biochemical research all of these things while working with the same organism,” says Dmytrenko.

“I saw how all of these interdisciplinary tools line up together and how they can be used to answer bigger questions. That was definitely something that allowed me to grow,” he says.

Dmytrenko, a chemistry major with concentrations in biomolecular science and statistics, has taken several courses at St. Olaf that have also prepared him for HSCI. He says that his upper-level classes in cell biology, genetics, and bioanalytical chemistry have “really allowed me to see what’s out there beyond the textbook examples.”

In addition to their laboratory research, HSCI 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.

Dmytrenko says that he can’t wait “to participate in an entirely new project in an entirely new setting, working in the field that I’m passionate about.”

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is a unique scientific enterprise that brings together leading scientists and clinical experts working to advance the use of stem cells in basic research and regenerative medicine.