Joseph McGaunn

This past summer [2019], I worked as a Visiting Undergraduate Student in the Meyerson Lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. I worked on an interdisciplinary team collaborating with a pharmaceutical company to develop a novel cancer therapeutic and characterize its mechanism of action. My overall responsibilities included designing and conducting cell culture-based assays to identify sensitive cancer cancer cell lines based on relevant literature, cancer dependency data, and previous results. I also worked to generate cell lines resistant to our developmental therapeutic and conduct biochemical assays to further investigate the basic molecular biology underlying our developmental drug’s mechanism of action. Additionally, I created and executed a CRISPR-HDR protocol to generate mutant cancer cell lines for future work testing the drug’s potential clinical utility.

Day-to-day responsibilities included independently designing, executing, and analyzing multiple cell culture experiments simultaneously while also maintaining cell line stocks, and developing and executing a CRISPR-HDR assay. I also collected and tested treated samples via western blotting, and prepared treated samples for later high-throughput characterization. When not at the bench or in the tissue culture hood, I was documenting experiments and analyzing data, communicating results to my mentor Xiaoyun Wu and other members on the Broad side of the collaboration, and analyzing literature and cancer dependency data to design future experiments. I also attended weekly Meyerson Lab meetings at Dana-Farber, and weekly project meetings with both other members at the Broad and our pharmaceutical collaborators. At the end of the summer, I presented some of our results during a meeting with our pharmaceutical collaborators. My time at the Broad gave me the chance to push myself to grow as a scientist in ways that I had never been able to before, for which I am incredibly grateful.

It was also great to go to lots of different seminars and learn about interesting developments in different fields, and get career advice from people in many different positions and from many different global backgrounds. I was also studying for the MCAT at the time, and a lot of people I was working with had already taken it and gave me very helpful advice to prepare. There was a lot of free food, which is always a bonus.

My experience in the Meyerson Lab was a fantastic opportunity to contribute to the fight against cancer through application of cancer genetics and epigenetics, learn how targeted therapeutics are developed, and more broadly learn about how to take scientific discoveries made at the bench and over time transform them into applications in the clinic. As an aspiring physician-scientist, this was the perfect chance to confirm the direction in which I want to head career-wise, and gave me the chance to apply all that I had learned thus far through my work in the Biochemistry major and in the Suvorov Lab to something with the potential to directly impact patients in the future.