“NIAID is like Disneyland for a young biomedical researcher.”
-2018 INRO participant Hanna Abuhay
Hanna was a postbac participant in the Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO) initiative, a unique opportunity for recent graduates (undergraduate or master’s) from U.S. populations underrepresented in the biomedical sciences and those dedicated to the promotion of diversity and inclusion.
“I came to the Mast Cell Biology Section in the Laboratory of Allergic Diseases, as most postbacs do, both anxious and excited about the unknown adventure ahead. The anxiety quickly wore off and was replaced by a sense of belonging as I was shown around the lab and introduced to everyone. Having only worked in an evolutionary genetics lab as an undergraduate, with limited exposure to immunology, there was a lot for me to learn. With a seemingly never-ending stream of lectures on a spectrum of topics, I relished the opportunity to connect bench-side discoveries to bedside solutions.
The most valuable aspect of my experience by far has been the mentorship I receive from Dr. Melody Carter. The guided independence Dr. Carter has granted me has been instrumental in my growth as a young scientist. Her consistent patience allows me the freedom to be vulnerable as I stumble to develop new skills and grow more confident. Under the guidance of Dr. Carter, a staff clinician, I have had the opportunity to work on projects regarding mastocytosis, a disease of abnormal aggregates of mast cells in tissues. One of the projects looks at the perceived risk for adverse vaccine reactions amongst children with cutaneous or systemic mastocytosis. This project has provided me an up-close insight into the role of research in health outcomes and the opportunity to develop a manuscript for publication, as well as create a poster for presentation at the NIH Postbac Poster Day.
Additionally, I collaborated with Dr. Arnold Kirshenbaum on a project titled “Maculopapular Cutaneous Mastocytosis (MPCM) in a Diverse Population,” which was recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice (JACI). Given that mastocytosis is seen predominantly in white, non-Hispanic populations, this project assessed whether the ability to identify MPCM in other groups might differ and confound the clinician from properly identifying and making the diagnosis of cutaneous mastocytosis for patients undergoing evaluation.
The combination of leadership from Dr. Metcalfe, our lab chief, regarding insights on the big world of research and clinical practice, and seeing patients with Dr. Carter and analyzing their data—my experience in NIAID has been a reaffirmation of my choice to pursue a career as a physician. The resources that NIAID and NIH provide for postbacs in terms of experience and career planning have allowed me to approach these next steps with ease. For this opportunity and guidance, I am truly grateful.”
INRO 2020 participants will visit the NIH main campus in February 2020 to learn about research at the forefront of immunologic, allergic, and infectious diseases and to engage with NIAID’s leading researchers. The application portal for INRO 2020 closes on November 22, 2019.