Biomedical engineering student Michael Pineda spent his summers researching brain tumor genomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. and analyzing bioinformatics information used to create molecular data visualizations through the Weill Cornell Medical College, Rockefeller University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. This Doran Community Scholar and member of Barrett, The Honors College, tells us how private support helped enable his research at ASU and beyond.
- Why did you choose to attend ASU?
- As a New American University Scholar-National Scholar and a Doran Community Scholar I could attend ASU and complete my research and other activities without having to worry about finances. It has also enabled me to be affiliated with the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Mayo Clinic, and other great medical institutions in the valley. Also, being a part of Barrett [The Honors College at Arizona State University] has opened other opportunities I could not have in other places.
- What have been 2-3 highlights of your studies so far?
To give some background, I was introduced to research and genomics during my summer at MIT where I completed a project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard on the human microbiome. That initiated my interest in research and allowed me to pursue similar opportunities in Arizona. I found the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and first became a summer Helios Scholar before being invited to apply and accepted to the year-long Ivy Neurological Scholar program at TGen. Here is where I began my career in research in the Brain Tumor Unit led by Dr. Michael Berens. I worked on clinical trials, sequencing techniques, in-vivo studies, and a myriad of other projects that I learned from immensely.
- Tell us about how you’ve spent your summer. What have you learned? What have you most enjoyed?
- I am a 2015 Gateways Scholar at the Weill Cornell Medical College/Rockefeller University/Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Tri-Institutional MD/PhD program (made of around 15 students from across the nation). I work under Dr. Christopher Mason -- creators of the PathoMap of New York City subways. I personally work on library preparations of metagenomic samples from across the world in preparation for DNA sequencing. This is to analyze the bacterial, viral, and eukaryotic composition surrounding the world around us. These include samples from the Amazon River and from several international cities as well. I also do bioinformatics analysis of these samples and use data visualization techniques to present that data to others who may not be acquainted with our field of study. Also as part of my program I am able to shadow cardiothoracic surgeries as well as obstetrics and gynaecology-oncology physicians. We also receive many opportunities to talk to MD/PhDs in different parts of their careers: students, residents, post-doctoral, as well as a one-on-one conversation with the National MSTP (Medical Scientists Training Programs, which are granted to medical schools by the NIH) Director Emeritus Dr. Bert Shapiro.
- What do you consider to be some of the most pressing issues in biomedical science? What efforts are being taken at ASU/in your research to tackle them?
- One of the areas of medicine I am most interested is oncology- and neurological-related diseases. These diseases have crippling effects on patients and their families, especially neurological diseases where patients cannot live normal lives or their lives are altered drastically to the point where their personality no longer reflects the person they used to be. It’s the same with oncological diseases. Especially over the last few decades, patients have become increasingly aware of their own situation and can fall into states of depression trying to combat their deadly disease. Hopefully, as genomic tools are more easily accessible nowadays, we can use this information for precision-based medicine to personalize patient treatment.
- How has the Doran Community Scholars Program helped with your studies?
- Besides the financial support that has allowed me to focus on my studies, the program has given me a community of students to grow and learn from as well as administrative support with any other needs or assistance in finding other programs I can take advantage of.
- What activities are you involved with outside of class?
I participate in the ASU Triathlon Club Team.
I am the Fulton Student Council Vice President of Administration. This is the engineering student council at ASU who serves all the engineering students ~8,700.
I am part of the National Association of Engineering Student Councils, which is an association of about 50-60 member schools from across the nation who gathers for regional and national conferences to network and grow our members. I was the corporate tour chair for the 2015 national conference and I organized tours at Stryker Sustainability Solution, Local Motors, SkySong, Orbital/ATK, Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, et al. for the ~200 participants.
I am also the western regional coordinator of recruitment for the National Association of Engineering Student Councils and I recruit new member schools and help lead the western region.
As the Biomedical Engineering Society industry representative, I handle all corporate relations for the society in an attempt to give biomedical engineering students at ASU (~800 students) learning opportunities and networking possibilities.
- Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
- I will be in an MD/PhD program studying oncology or neurology. I will have been published on various accounts on my research. I will also be pursing grants, fellowships, and other ways to show my promise as an up-and-coming physician scientist.