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Coming back and giving back

08/01/2017

A MIRI college intern, born prematurely at Tufts Medical Center contributes to research on oral feeding difficulties in the newborn

Each year, Principal Investigators at the Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI) mentor fellows, medical students, research assistants, and interns, providing them with hands-on research experience – in the lab, doing data analysis,  and contributing to abstracts, papers, and posters.  Mentoring is a critical part of MIRI’s mission to train the next generation of researchers.  Since its inception in 2011, MIRI has trained approximately 35 fellows, medical students, research assistants, and interns from the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. 

This story features MIRI intern Kaley Jenny, who graduated in May from Emmanuel College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience.  Kaley has a unique connection, not just to the science conducted at MIRI, but to Tufts Medical Center & the Floating Hospital for Children.

A personal connection

“What truly sparked my interest in an internship at MIRI was my personal connection,” Kaley states. “I was born at the Floating Hospital for Children and spent the first eight months of my life in the NICU, after being born weighing only 1 lb, 1 oz. I believe my experience at Tufts is what drew me to not only work in the medical field in general, but to work at Tufts specifically.”

Kaley contacted Dr. Jill Maron to discuss her research interests, specifically her interest in the developing nervous system, and began working at MIRI in May, 2016.  Her project at MIRI entailed performing a Systems Biology analysis of salivary gene expression data to identify underlying neurodevelopmental mechanisms associated with the acquisition of oral feeding competency in premature newborns.

As Kaley explains, “Saliva has been found to be both a non-invasive and valuable source of genetic information related to newborn neurodevelopment. After exploring differentially expressed genes between infants who could and could not successfully orally feed in both males and females, I discovered that unsuccessful male feeders were more likely to express genes associated with abnormal neurodevelopment, while unsuccessful female feeders were affected by abnormal gastrointestinal and digestive development.  These particular findings were fascinating, as it supported evidence that males and females develop differently, suggesting that an individualized approach is needed when treating these newborns post-natally.”

Following her graduation from Emmanuel, Kaley hopes to work as a research assistant or clinical research coordinator at a local hospital or university to gain more clinical research experience. She eventually wants to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health and conduct global health research.

The most gratifying aspect of her internship, Kaley says, was “applying my personal connection with the hospital to the research I was conducting.  I was able to grow as both a researcher and as a person.”