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Undergrads gain invaluable research exposure as Amgen Scholars

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Anna Patterson and Julian Maceren are two of 16 Amgen Scholars from across the country who received hands-on laboratory experience at UT Southwestern.

Lauren Duan spent the summer working alongside UT Southwestern faculty members and postdocs focused on cardiac regeneration and investigating how cardiomyocytes can be programmed to regenerate and resist cell death.

Ms. Duan, along with 15 other selected undergraduates, is one of the initial Amgen Scholars on campus. The junior at Johns Hopkins University – mentored by Professor of Molecular Biology Dr. Rhonda Bassel-Duby and Department Chairman Dr. Eric Olson while working closely with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Miao Cui – was able to dive into and contribute to some of the most dynamic ongoing scientific efforts at UTSW.

I knew that I wanted to gain a research experience unlike any other, to make big strides in my science but also to contribute to answering big questions, said Ms. Duan, the daughter of two University of California-Davis scientists whose postgraduation plans now revolve around applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs. It’s been great to see that amazing scientists have the time and patience to open their labs up to us and be so welcoming. Drs. Olson, Bassel-Duby, and Cui – my mentors and PIs – have all been incredibly supportive, and have really made this summer worthwhile.

Late last year, UT Southwestern was awarded a four-year grant from the Amgen Foundation to provide hands-on laboratory experience to undergraduate students through the Amgen Scholars Program.

Only 13 institutions across the U.S. were selected to host these budding biomedical scientists. This year, UT Southwestern – along with Duke, Johns Hopkins, and Yale universities – joined the California Institute of Technology, Columbia, Harvard, the National Institutes of Health, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UCLA, UC-San Francisco, and Washington University in St. Louis in the network. More than 4,200 Amgen Scholars – representing more than 700 colleges and universities worldwide – have participated in this undergraduate program since its inception 12 years ago.

Designation as an Amgen Scholars institution reaffirms UT Southwestern’s international stature as an elite biomedical research institution, said Dr. Andrew Zinn, Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. It also augments our highly successful Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program, which plays a key role in our efforts to recruit outstanding undergraduates nationally to do their Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. training here and become future leaders in biomedical science.

The Amgen Scholars and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship programs at UT Southwestern are both led by Dr. Nancy Street, Graduate School Associate Dean.

After absorbing their up-close summer experiences, members of UTSW’s initial cohort of Amgen Scholars are almost evenly split between pursuing doctorate programs or combined initiatives like the Medical Scientist Training Program at UTSW.

Anna Patterson and Dr. Zigman in the lab
Amgen Scholar Anna Patterson works with Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, who mentored her during the summer.

It has been wonderful having Lauren in our lab this summer and we appreciate that the Amgen Scholars Program made it possible, Dr. Bassel-Duby said. She has been working closely with Dr. Cui on a project that studies the molecular mechanism contributing to heart regeneration. Lauren has been exposed to cutting-edge technologies in molecular biology as well as learning about heart growth and repair, and her deep motivation, curious mind, and hardworking nature have brought positive energy to the lab and pushed our research project forward.

The first wave of Amgen Scholars on campus includes undergrads from as far away as New York, California, and Puerto Rico as well as three selected from Texas colleges and universities. In all, 12 UTSW Departments, Divisions, or Centers participated, with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Radiation Oncology hosting three Scholars each.

Amgen Scholars Group Photo
Sixteen students from institutions across the U.S. trained in UT Southwestern labs as part of the Amgen Scholars Program. View the student bios and projects.

The Amgen Scholars Program continues to make a difference by providing undergraduates at any college or university with a summer research opportunity at one of the world’s premier institutions, including at UT Southwestern, said Dr. Scott Heimlich, Vice President of the Amgen Foundation. We are proud to support the institutions and faculty that make this program possible, and even more pleased that the program’s 4,200-plus alumni are pursuing degrees and careers across a wide variety of biomedical fields.

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