Hannah Miller ’21 Conducts Research to Treat MS at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, OR

Hi everyone! I am Hannah Miller, a rising sophomore, intending to major in Biology at Whitman. This summer, thanks to the Whitman Internship Grant, I have had the opportunity to work as a summer intern in Professor Tom Scanlan’s Lab in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Oregon Health and Science University.

Scanlan’s Lab is centered around conducting research to better understand thyroid hormone action and studying the use of synthetic thyromimetic compounds, which are structurally very similar to natural thyroid hormone. These synthetic compounds are being tested as therapeutic agents for demyelination, a disorder caused by the loss of myelin sheaths which coat the nerves of both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. It has been proven that Sobetirome, the synthetically prepared thyromimetic compound which originally showed effects for lowering cholesterol, can be used as an approach in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and X-linked Adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD). MS is a neurological disorder involving damage to the protective myelin sheath that envelops nerve fibers and X-ALD is a rare, genetic disorder characterized by adrenal insufficiency and central nervous system demyelination. Sobetirome has shown a positive affect in vivo by starting a remyelination process of the myelin sheaths that are degenerating due to the biochemical abnormality of elevated blood and tissue levels of very long chain fatty acids (VLCFAs). This elevation is caused by the chemical defect of the gene responsible for VLCFA regulation called ABCD1. Scanlan’s lab has synthesized prodrugs of Sobetirome, which cross the Blood Brain Barrier easily and thus, increase the amount of the parent compound in the brain. I am involved in testing these compounds in animal models to identify the most effective candidates for further study.

A normal day as an intern in Scanlan’s Lab consists of preparing samples, buffers, and reagents as needed, running PCR reactions for genotyping, and working with the animal models. I also attend weekly lab meetings where we review the progress made in the past week and what we need to do to move forward in certain studies. Working in the lab with experienced postdoctoral associates has allowed me to learn many new laboratory skills and what it means to work in a well-run biochemistry research lab.

This opportunity will help me in the future both as a Biology major and as a student on the pre-med track. This experience is also extremely helpful for learning many different laboratory techniques which can help me in labs at Whitman as well as in the future if I work in Scanlan’s lab again or somewhere else. I am very grateful to have this opportunity and I cannot wait to learn more throughout the rest of this summer!

Experiences like Hannah’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.

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