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Shawhan Spans The Globe: Part Three

Aug 16, 2013, 12:56 AM EDT

Molly pipetting with the UV-shield on during her research

Rising senior women’s lacrosse player Molly Shawhan has had quite a summer thus far. The Fulton, Md., native took trips to Spain, Portugal and Ireland during June and spent July at Yale doing an internship. A finalist for the Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award, Molly’s three blogs will talk about her adventures at home and abroad. The finale: Yale.

For my next summer adventure, I was off to another foreign land: the Yale University School of Medicine.

It is customary that going into senior year that many college juniors obtain an internship to peek into what they want to do after graduation. As a pre-med major, I was presented the opportunity to intern as a laboratory assistant in the Yale Hepatology department. As an added bonus, I spent quality time with my Aunt Caroline (this one’s real this time) who is a Gastroenterologist at a Yale hospital branch. One of her colleagues is a Hepatologist, and he runs the research laboratory where I worked.

In case I have lost anyone, a Gastroenterologist is a doctor who works on the digestive system – any organs from the esophagus to the rectum, while a Hepatologist specifically focuses on the liver, biliary system, and pancreas.

The lab does a lot of research with hepatocytes and cholangiocytes, liver tissue and bile duct cells, respectively. They look into the effects of calcium signaling in these epithelial cells because up and down-regulation of calcium is involved in bile secretion, glucose metabolism, cell proliferation and apoptosis. Calcium signaling therefore plays a role in diseases such as cholestasis, hepatocellular carcinoma and viral hepatitis to name a few.

While at Yale, I worked on a project in which we are cloning the rat inositol-1, 4, 5-triphosphate type 2 receptor. This receptor controls all of the calcium functioning in the liver; calcium binds to it in order to undergo its particular job at the time. After one month, we have successfully cloned this receptor, as well as made truncated or smaller fragments of it (to answer your probable questions: yes, I can clone, but no, I will not clone you your own personal Bobby Flay). The receptor we cloned will now be used to test these diseases and functions in order to understand them. Down the road, it will be used to find treatments to cure these illnesses. Another promising thing about this particular receptor is it is also prevalent in the heart. Ideally our findings will be applicable to cardiac tissue of the heart as well. This will be especially beneficial because there has been little research done on this receptor in the heart and our findings could potentially solve issues with heart diseases.

Over this past month, you could definitely say I learned a lot. I got to assist in working with live human cells from tumors so they can continue to multiply. I used UV-imaging machines to view gels that I made and ran with Ethidium Bromide electrophoresis. I prepared minipreps and maxipreps of DNA. Now, I’m not sure how much they appreciate my verbiage of “let’s go through the time machine” (the entrance to the dark room) and “okay so you add the pink Kool-Aid to the orange water,” but it’s all a learning process. It’s funny how we go from science class at my twelve-year old brother Jack’s age, “Okay class, a human being in a mammal” (insert astounded 12 year-old faces here) to cloning promoters and things I’m still trying to completely piece together… One of these days I’ll have it down pat. That all being said, I hope I’ve added some smiles to all the seriousness and science talk. Whether it’s walking around the lab with a blown up glove asking everyone if they need a hand or cracking a nerdy science joke, every now and then it’s good to step back, not stress about the experiments and have a laugh or two… Even if it is at my expense.

As my time here winds down, it’s hard not to think about senior year coming up in less than a month. And it’s even more difficult not to think: what the heck am I going to do after college.

Working at Yale has been an unbelievable experience, but I’m not quite sure research is for me. What’s cool about that though is I’ve been able to see people who truly love working in a lab. They are making an impact by using their talents to understand the body. That way medications can be developed, diseases can be cured. They found their answer to that dreaded question: what are you going to do with your life? All around us are people who figured out what they enjoy doing and how to better the world by doing so – their own niche, their comfort zone.

And that’s ultimately what I’ve learned this summer. How to do the opposite: how to step out of my comfort zone. How to sleep in gross Spanish hostels, how to climb 2,000 feet into a cloud and how to go into a job knowing little to nothing about the topic, all the while trusting that every thing will work out. No risk, no freedom.

The day will surely come and will most definitely be met with tears when we graduate from Notre Dame, the place we’ve called home for four years. Sure we joke about the Notre Dame bubble and being in the middle of nowhere South Bend, but deep down, we absolutely adore that bubble. It’s our security blanket, our comfort zone. That bubble is what has kept us not only safe, but happy. We have met friends that will be our bridesmaids and groomsmen, teachers, coaches and staff we’ll keep in touch with; we’ve forged a family. And ultimately, Notre Dame has made us who we are – a bunch of kids now ready to take on the world.

So when that fateful day in May rolls around, no matter how many tears I have running down my face, I will hold my head high. I won’t be nearly as scared as I would have been without my experiences this summer. Instead, I’ll be ready to find a new niche. Ready to jump out of my comfort zone again. And prepared to figure out exactly where I belong in order to do everything I love doing.

All the while knowing I still have Notre Dame, a place that will always be home.

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