A Summer of Science: HHS Student Interns at Sanford Lab

Over the summer, Austyn Smithback, who is a current senior at Harrisburg High, took part in the Sanford PROMISE scholarship; this is a unique research internship that offers highly motivated high school students that are interested in biomedical sciences an immersion experience in lab research at Sanford. While participants work along scientists as part of the research team, PROMISE scholars also earn three undergraduate elective credits through the University of South Dakota and a $2,500 scholarship. Smithback’s internship took place with the Tao Lab, a group that studies the most predominant form of pediatric bone cancer, osteosarcoma. Her research project was titled “Dual Targeting Notch-Regulated Histone Deacetylase and Demethylase in Cellar Model of Human Osteosarcoma, and” her main project this summer studied the effects of a novel therapeutic drug on different osteosarcoma cell lines. During her ten-week internship, Smithback typically spent her days in the lab from 8am to 5pm, conducting various experiments of different cell lines, going to lab meetings, collecting and analyzing data, and performing basic cell culture work.

Smithback learned an abundance of information over the summer, but what interested her the most was how the therapeutic drug she worked with specifically targets proteins that shut down over-active signaling pathways in osteosarcoma cancer cells. She also really enjoyed absorbing more information from all the members of the Sanford Research Labs, and her mentor, Dr. Jianning Tao, who holds his Ph. D in Biology. Dr. Tao specifically guided Austyn through her research journey and taught her many life skills to use in the future. By the end of the internship, Austyn had the opportunity to present her research in the Sanford Research Summer Symposium.  Not only did this program allow her to see a glimpse of a possible future occupation but it also taught her the importance of collaboration: “Working in research takes a lot of communication within the lab between you, your mentor, Primary Investigators, and other lab members.” After graduation, Smithback aspires to major in Bio-Chem and become an MD. Although she is not certain on what her specialty will be just yet, she is leaning towards becoming an orthopedic surgeon or an oncologist. Overall, Austyn encourages any Harrisburg junior that enjoys science and math to consider applying for this opportunity next summer.