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Miriam Lerner ’24 at the National Institutes of Health.
As an art history major on the pre-med track, Miriam Lerner ’24 believes that college is a time to explore your passions — even if they differ from your career goals.

She has taken advantage of the open curriculum to learn about anthropology, environmental studies, Japanese, and of course, art history. At the same time, her interest in medicine has grown through her research with Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Abigail Myers. That research led her to a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“I work with mice at the NIH, and I think a key component of my application was that previous research experience,” Lerner said. “I was recently talking to my [supervisor], and she said that a lot of people don’t get the undergraduate research opportunity that Hamilton offers and having it made a difference on my application.”

The NIH Summer Internship was advertised as a great pre-med opportunity, and Lerner didn’t doubt it; many of her favorite scientific journal articles come from the organization. After researching various NIH labs and reaching out to their primary investigators, she was offered a position in Dr. Patricia Beccera’s lab in the National Eye Institute. Becerra’s research focuses on the protein PEDF and its applicability in medical treatments.

In the lab, Lerner works on two projects. The first, a long-term study on retinal degeneration in mice, investigates how PEDF may reduce the death of certain vision cells known as photoreceptors. Due to the similarities between mice and human eyes, this research can be applied to medical treatments for those with retinal degeneration.

“So many people suffer from vision loss,” Lerner said. “I was excited to study something that’s so prevalent in people’s lives and learn more about a topic I don’t have much experience with.”

Though the second study also uses eye cells, its medical implications can be applied to cells throughout the body. By inserting the protein TNF alpha, Lerner causes inflammation within the cell. She can then insert PEDF to test the protein’s effect on reducing cell inflammation. Lerner enjoys this research because it’s relevant, she said, noting that inflamed lungs are a major side effect of COVID-19. Eventually, her research could play a role in treatment for severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Lerner will publish the findings from this second study, which is her individual research project, in a scientific journal this fall. In the meantime, she is excited to continue learning and applying her interdisciplinary skillset to her research experience.

“All of my studies at Hamilton really prepared me for the critical thinking and creativity needed for this position,” Lerner said. “I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone during the past few weeks, but I’ve learned so much and come to appreciate the things I learned at Hamilton even more.”

Miriam Lerner ’24

Major: Art History
Hometown: Lancaster, Pa.
High School: J.P. McCaskey High School

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