On most afternoons, Theresa G. Feng ’13 can be found on the fourth floor of the Sherman Fairchild building, home to the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB).
Feng works in the laboratory of Harvard Stem Cell Institute Co-director and Natural Sciences Professor Douglas A. Melton, whose research focuses primarily on the role that stem cells play in the developmental biology of the pancreas.
The Melton Lab’s long-term goal is to find a cure for Type I diabetes.
Feng, a junior in Lowell House, has worked in the Melton Lab since spring of her sophomore year. Her interest in stem cell research grew after taking SCRB 10: "Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology," a course that is co-taught by Professors Kevin C. Eggan, Andrew P. McMahon, and Melton himself.
With aspirations to attend medical school, Feng dedicates roughly 15 to 20 hours per week of her time outside of the classroom to research.
"Theresa is extremely good at the bench," said Jose Rivera-Feliciano, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology who supervises Feng in the lab.
"She has been able to quickly master very difficult techniques and use them to answer important questions in our field," he said.
Currently, Feng is helping to improve the protocol involved in making complementary DNA (cDNA) libraries from the RNA of adult beta cells—the cells in the pancreas that make and release insulin. These "libraries"—which are collections of cDNA fragments—can be used to express human pancreatic genes in the host cells of model organisms like mice or bacteria.
Feng said that the most exciting aspect of her research lies in the possibility of discovering mRNA that code for proteins that increase the production of insulin-producing beta cells for diabetic patients.
But more than the academic and intellectual rewards of research, Feng said that she enjoys the atmosphere of learning that she is exposed to at the Melton Lab.
"There’s a feeling of community in the lab because people are constantly collaborating and making small talk," she said.
This community, she continued, extends beyond the walls of the laboratory. This summer, Melton Lab members participated in the Rhino League volleyball tournament as a bonding experience, playing against teams of other Harvard scientists on campus.
These lab colleagues have also taken an interest in Feng’s life outside of the lab. Her fellow researchers were surprised to find out that ‘T’—as they fondly call her—breakdances and is a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship when she isn’t working on beta cells.
Though passionate about her work, Feng is still unsure as to whether she will continue research in the future.
"I think that being a scientist is fun, but I’m still not sure whether I want to dedicate my entire life to it," she said. "But for now, I definitely love it."
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