The InSPIRE (Interested Students Pursuing Internship Research Experiences) program at Concord Academy provides rising seniors with an experiential and research-based internship in the Greater Boston Area. Over the course of eight weeks in the summer, accepted students have the opportunity to contribute to ongoing research at some of Boston’s leading scientific institutions. This past summer,  four CA seniors—Jay Talwar ’23, Isabella Ginsburg ’23, Shahin Aliabadi ’23, and Sophie Dornstein ’23—participated in this program. The students were matched with mentors conducting research on Automatic Segmentation of the Kidneys, Microglial-Like Cell Markers, Schizophrenic Research, and Optimizing Transfection of Adeno-Associated Virus and. Lipid Nanoparticles in the Brain. They presented their findings to the CA community on October 19. 

Sophie Dornstein ’23 worked with Dr. Nicholas Todd in the Focused Ultrasound Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Her research mainly consisted of observing and conducting experiments to test the future possibilities and vectors (Adeno-Associated Virus vs. Lipid Nanoparticles) for Focused Ultrasound as a mechanism of delivering drugs to the brain. Sophie said, “I interacted with three main types of cells: microglia, astrocytes, and neurons, and delved deeper into the cellular biology behind their structures in order to correctly identify them in a fluorescent image on my computer.” One of Sophie’s main tasks throughout the session was to quantify the number of cells that were treatment positive. Sophie stated, “To do so, I looked through each image and counted the number of cells (either astrocytes, microglia, or neurons), and then the number of treatment cells. I then put these two layers together, and identified (based largely on color and shape) where profusion had successfully occurred.” Afterwards, Sophie quantified the data from the cells by using QuPath, a widely used biology software in the field. This quantified data is the work that’s shown in her poster, and the overall results that she was able to obtain. Sophie noted that a large part of her job was running the experiments that allowed her team to obtain results and data to quantify. Additionally, she needed to understand the physics of the FUS system and to read about various genetic variations in order to understand the purpose of the drugs with which they were attempting to treat brain diseases.

On a typical day at work, Sophie arrived at around 9am and worked on quantifications independently at her desk. Later, Dr. Todd would gather their team to conduct experiments. They would head to the MRI or testing room, depending on the availability of the machines. Sophie noted that sometimes components of the MRI machine broke down, or the anesthetic would not work immediately, resulting in experiments sometimes taking up to a couple of hours. After testing, the team would analyze the images or conduct behavioral testing after the fact depending on the treatments. Testing typically concluded around 4pm, after which Sophie either stayed later or headed home.

When asked if the experience changed her perspective on what she wanted to pursue in college or as a career, Sophie reflected that she was never really clear on what she intended to major in. However, she knew that it would most likely be something in the STEM fields and related to biology, which align with the focus of her internship. Sophie also noted that she wants to maintain an open mindset regarding her interests and might even pursue psychology. 

Reflecting on the takeaways of her internship, Sophie emphasized that initially, the experience was extremely overwhelming. Going into the internship, she had no knowledge of the Blood Brain Barrier or AAV or LNP, but after talking with Dr. Todd, he provided her with useful, relevant readings. Now, Dornstein believes that, given the time, she could acclimate to initially overwhelming endeavors.