I became really interested in regenerative medicine when I came across a National Geographic documentary called “How to Build a Beating Heart” in high school. Ever since then I have been fascinated by regenerative medicine and the possibilities in the future of the field. When I came to college, I immediately started looking for research opportunities, but did not have much luck until my second semester, when I got the opportunity to join the Pig Stroke Project team in The West Laboratory. I have been helping out as an undergraduate researcher continuously since then. Getting to help out in the West Laboratory has enabled me to see every facet of large animal stem cell models. I have been able to gain hundreds of hours of experience helping with pre and post-operative care, as well as veterinary treatment of large animal subjects.

I think regenerative bioscience is a complete game changer in the medical field. Today pharmaceuticals dominate the medical field as the primary form of treatment for most injuries and maladies. Although there are plenty of medicines on the market that prevent various health problems from progressing and may actually reverse severe illnesses; most medications are limited to treating symptoms and none of them regenerate degrading tissue, release natural biological factors for healing, or completely replace entire organs. Regenerative medicine gives people and animals with otherwise permanent injuries or diseases the chance to heal where traditional pharmaceutical treatments have failed. In my family, there is a long history of autoimmune disorders. Many of the pharmaceuticals used to treat these disorders have a host of terrible symptoms, many of which I saw firsthand as my grandmother declined. Today a number of therapies are being developed in regenerative medicine to mitigate inflammation, enhance T-cell function and concentration, etc., as well as treatments to prevent the onset of autoimmune disorders for those at risk, and many more. Although most of these regenerative therapies are still in clinical trials, they have the potential to transform the prognosis and quality of life for innumerable patients. If these treatments were available for my grandmother twenty-five years ago, when the onset of rheumatoid arthritis set in, she would probably still be here today.

As cliché as I know it sounds, I have wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. My dream has always been to work with animals in a career where there are always different problems to solve and where my job makes a difference in someone or something’s life. Although I still want to become a veterinarian, my work as an undergraduate researcher in The West Laboratory has opened my eyes to a PhD track I was not really aware of previously.

by Mary Kate Mehegan RBC Fellows Undergraduate Student