Toronto native Rachel Blinick was one of 10 Yeshiva University undergraduates who participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), a biomedical research program at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
In addition to the 10 undergraduates, the program attracted 45 graduate students from a number of American colleges and universities to participate in cutting-edge scientific studies.
Blinick, who spoke with The CJN in Toronto just days before returning to New York to prepare for the final semester of a bachelor’s degree in biology at YU, said she was humbled to be one of the few chosen to participate in the nine-week program that ended earlier this month.
“You had to have research experience, you had to have good grades, good recommendation letters and show that you’re really interested in research. You get a stipend as well, so it’s a prestigious position,” Blinick said.
In the summer program, Blinick worked full time in a research laboratory at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, where she joined Dr. Richard Gorlick’s research group, which focuses on osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children.
“I joined a project in which they were looking at cell-differentiation of growing stem cells,” Blinick said.
She also attended weekly lectures by renowned scientists who spoke about their latest discoveries, and she worked closely with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.
Blinick said her role in the study was to analyze genes expressed by mesenchymal stem cells (stem cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types) and chondroblasts (cartilage-producing cells that come from stem cells), to test for specific markers using flow cytometry, a technique used to identify, separate and count cells based on detecting and measuring the fluorescence emitted with a laser light beam.
“I really liked the research because it was very translational, meaning we were actually working with patient samples and bone marrow from patients. It was something that was going to be used to treat patients,” she said.
“It wasn’t all theory. I really liked the fact that it was very clinically based. It was being applied to the patients.”
Blinick said that last year, she took part in another research program offered by YU through Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
But she feels SURP provided her with more hands-on, practical experience.
“I felt like I did more this summer. The project I had this year was something the whole lab was already working on. It had already been started and was ongoing when I left,” she said.
“I also got to go around with the doctors in the mornings and see patients, so it kind of gave the whole lab experience more of a human aspect.”
Following the completion of her BA, Blinick plans to take a year off to work before taking her MCATs and applying to medical school.