By Brendan Creemer
I had the opportunity this past summer to attend the prestigious Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) at the University of Iowa and work in the Wynn Institute for Vision Research alongside professors and staff working to cure Usher Syndrome. SSTP is a longstanding summer program pairing high school students from around the world with faculty members at the University of Iowa. The program’s goal is to place students who are interested in STEM careers into working labs to enable them to get real, hands-on experience. I achieved that and more.
The Wynn Institute for Vision Research is one of the leading centers investigating various treatments for Usher Syndrome, including Usher 1F. One promising area of research is in the use of CRISPR to edit mutated USH1F genes to restore typical function. One small step in this process is finding a set of effective CRISPR tools that can carry out editing. My specific task was to evaluate the effectiveness of these various CRISPR tools for their ability edit the USH1F gene PCDH15. To do this, I cultured cells that had an USH1F mutation, treated them with various tools, and then extracted the treated DNA and evaluated them using gel electrophoresis.
By the end of the summer, we found the CRISPR tools were on average about 50% effective. This is great progress, but of course still a long way from a cure. I had the opportunity to write up my research progress in the form of an academic poster and present it to the other students and faculty. I accomplished the primary goal of SSTP, and now I have a real understanding of what it’s like to be a working scientist.
The summer was not all about science, though. In addition to my scientific work, I also gained valuable experience living independently on a large college campus — taking busses, navigating dining halls and dealing with dorm-mates. But most of all, I am excited to finally begin my career literally battling Usher Syndrome head-on. My prior years felt simply like practicing for the main event.