Franklin & Marshall College junior Caroline Tippett, a public health and mathematics double major, found her inspiration in the nation’s premier genetics laboratories, working on the latest advancement tools with national geneticists.
Tippett interned this summer for the Amgen Scholars Program at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. She worked alongside Dr. William Gahl, director of NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program, and Dr. May Christine Malicdan in the Medical Genetics Branch. Her mentor was Dr. Joshi Stephen in the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Last fall, Tippett discussed internship opportunities with Adjunct Professor of Russian Nina Bond, who directed her to F&M’s Fellowship Office. Director Monica Cable helped match her interest and career goals. Tippett’s interest in education and health disparities developed in work with Dr. Daniel Weber ‘76 at the International Healthcare Professional Program in Lancaster.
“Professor Cable was instrumental in connecting me with NIH and its Amgen Scholars Program, which focuses on disparities in health care for rising juniors and seniors planning to pursue a Ph.D. or M.D/Ph.D. degree,” Tippett said.
At NIH, Tippett worked with Gahl, Malicda and Stephen on their project to investigate a new neurodevelopmental disease, specifically a neuronal migration disorder diagnosed in a pediatric patient. The child's disease manifested in developmental delays and physical deformities.
Tippett was involved in finding and confirming genes associated with the disease, understanding the mechanism of the mutation, and developing a CRISPR Cas9/Cpf1 knock-in mouse model of the hypothesized candidate gene.
“I learned how to perform testing in the lab, including Sanger sequencing and Western blot,” she said. “I visited the mouse core at NIH to learn about CRISPR, and attended clinical rounds. Many people mentored me in the lab, including Dr. Gahl, Dr. Stephen and Dr. Malicdan; each of them spent a great deal of time guiding my research experience and discussing my long-term goals.”
CRISPR technology, discovered in 2015, is a tool for editing genomes, whether human, animal or plant, to correct genetic defects, prevent the spread of diseases, or improve crops, to name a few applications.
Tippett participated in a leadership development program, journal clubs and lectures by science and social policy leaders, and the Amgen Scholars U.S. Symposium in Los Angeles. NIH’s scientific program manager in the Office of Intramural Training and Education, Dr. Ulrike Klenke, mentored her in the program, where Tippett developed a policy brief on health disparities and cystinosis, a rare genetic disease, advocating for universal newborn screening for the disease.
“The Amgen Scholars Program was a transformative experience, clarifying my career goals,” she said. “I came into the program with a general interest in health disparities and research, but uncertain how I would combine my interests in public health and basic science. I now know that I want to pursue a doctorate, studying epigenetics with an emphasis on health disparities.”