BBI summer interns (left to right): Emmanuel Boakye-Ansah, Gina Jones, and Emma Kajiwara
EDITOR’S NOTE: Every summer, BBI sponsors interns at its three institutions – Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, UW Medicine, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Here are profiles of their lives and future livelihoods.
Emmanuel Boakye-Ansah: ‘Psychology will always be a part of what I do as a scientist’
Why do apple slices brown so fast and how can I fix that? That was the question Emmanuel Boakye-Ansah wanted to answer in his International Baccalaureate chemistry class as a high school junior.
Fast-forward five years, Boakye-Ansah is as passionate about science today as he was in 2018 when he learned apples contain polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme that, when exposed to oxygen, turns them brown.
“I realized during this process, my first scientific study, that I thought, ‘Gee, I like this,’” he said. “The process was therapeutic. I really like thinking through all the questions and coming up with answers. Especially when those answers relate to things I find important, such as preventing apple slices from browning.”
Boakye-Ansah, 21, will face many more questions – and likely come up with answers – in June of next year when he is scheduled to graduate from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.
“My heart is leaning toward going for a Ph.D. in biochem or cancer-cell bio, but I believe psychology will always be a part of what I do as a scientist,” said Boakye-Ansah, who emigrated to the Lynnwood, Washington from Ghana when he was 8.
That fascination with psychology stems from a high school friend who, as a junior, was diagnosed with DIPG (Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma), an aggressive brain tumor in an area controlling breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. DIPG accounts for 10 percent of all childhood central nervous system tumors.
“Anyone going through cancer is immensely affected by it,” Boakye-Ansah said.
“Most students identified her by her cancer, and it usually was the first thing they asked about her. “When she and I talked, I would ask her about everything else except cancer. I let her bring it up. She appreciated that and it showed me the importance of studying psychology and the role it can play in fighting a disease.”
This summer, he is interning in the lab of Dr. Susan Bullman, an assistant professor in the Human Biology Division of the Fred Hutch Cancer Center.
“Prior to the Bullman lab, a lot of my experience was working with proteins,” he said. With this internship, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and learn new techniques and venture into the field of working with cancer cells to see what other kinds of research lay out there as I begin to look at graduate schools. It has allowed me to do that, as well as being a great environment to grow as a scientist this summer.”
Emma Kajiwara: ‘Research is an important aspect behind community medicine’
It’s nearly 2,700 miles from Seattle to Waianae, a community on the island of Oʻahu in Hawaii. For Emma Kajiwara, a rising junior at the University of Washington, Waianae, and specifically the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (WCCHC), represent both inspiration and aspiration for her future as a physician.
The center provides primary care, behavioral health, nutrition, dental care, diagnostic services, and a pharmacy. It also offers a food bank selling donated fresh produce, as well as an annual job fair for local residents.
She worked at the center as an intern between June and August of 2022, observing and assisting medical and health professionals in clinics focusing on rural women’s health, pediatrics, and family medicine. One year earlier, during the summer of 2021, Kajiwara, volunteered at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, which at 575 beds and more than 3,500 employees, is the largest private, non-profit hospital in Hawaiʻi.
It’s clear from speaking to her that, at least for now, her interest in medicine leans heavily toward community health and WCCHC.
“This center, said Kajiwara, 20, “exemplifies what the term ‘community health’ is all about. It is very different from a ‘corporate hospital.’”
The center, she said, is vital to “an under-represented population on our island.”
That population is characterized by lower than average socio-economic levels, with patients prone to diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity, according to Kajiwara. Among her projects as an intern was designing creating a printed brochure to explain shuttles taking local residents to the center.
“Many of the people rely on printed information,” she said. “This is an older community and many don’t know how to use technology.”
Her experience at the clinic was the “driving force” for her interest in tailored medicine.
“It was the All of Us research project where I learned the importance of utilizing genetic information from underrepresented populations to determine specific treatments, as well as understanding risk factors for particular diseases,” she said. “This not only led me to the BBI, but also reinforced my passion for a career in community health.”
This summer, she is studying alongside BBI’s Director of Single Cell Genomics Dr. Mary O’Neill.
With two years from completing a degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, she is “99 percent” sure she will go on to medical school. Moreover, she is pondering pursuing a Ph.D. and intends to meet with students and faculty this fall to assess that option.
“Research is an important aspect behind community medicine,” Kajiwara said.
Gina Jones: ‘I love finding new information and asking questions that have not been answered’
Gina Jones learned important life lessons, including how to navigate her future as an infectious disease researcher, from an unlikely job after high school: dog groomer.
“It taught me how to be meticulous, how to be calm in stressful situations, and how to be patient, and how to talk to people” said Jones, who graduated Summa Cum Laude in June with a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences from the University of Washington. “Science is really difficult. It doesn’t work more than it does. So, I learned how to respond calmly when something does not go well.”
Such a level of maturity is evident after speaking with Jones, 28, who is working currently as a summer scholar at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute where she researches the expression of a chemokine receptor on immune cells during malaria infection. She expects to continue there for two more years before entering graduate school, where she intends to focus on infectious diseases.
“Becoming a bench scientist is my dream,” she said. “I love finding new information and asking questions that have not been answered, as well as exploring novel techniques and targeting diseases for which there are no treatments.”
That interest in exploring novel techniques led her in the summer of 2022 to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in on Long Island, New York, the prestigious biomedical research and education center.
“I was able to get in under its summer undergraduate research program,” Jones said. “I applied and had major imposter syndrome, thinking there was no way I would be accepted.”
She spent three months analyzing single-cell datasets identifying effects of urinary tract infection on mammary glands. Those efforts have led to a paper, “Host response in UTI-bearing mice affects mammary tissue homeostasis in a TIMP1-dependent manner,” which is under review by Nature Communications.
In her little spare time, Jones plays piano and is a gamer; her favorite, the series “Legend of Zelda.” She also has a dog, Alex, and two cats, Dinn and Majora. And, yes, it’s a safe bet that Alex gets groomed regularly.