S. Alison Kraemer ’12 knew she wanted to research stem cells before she came to Harvard.
At 13, she had a spinal injury while dancing that left her with herniated discs. She recovered from her injury with physical therapy, but she was no longer able to dance.
Kraemer’s injury helped spark her interest in stem cell research. She hopes that finding clinical solutions to spinal cord injuries will help those who were not as fortunate in their recoveries as she was.
Since the summer after her freshman year, Kraemer has worked continuously at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. She researches in Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Professor Paola Arlotta’s lab, where she investigates practical applications for recent breakthroughs in stem cell technology.
Kraemer’s work involves culturing induced pluripotent stem cells, skin cells which have been transformed into stem cells in order to eventually create corticospinal motor neurons. These neurons help transmit signals from the cortex, down the spinal cord, and ultimately to the muscles. They can be damaged in the case of spinal cord injuries or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Kraemer’s laboratory hopes that if the damaged neurons can be replaced, some of these patients may be able to move again.
Coming into the lab, Kraemer was unfamiliar with the intricacies of stem cell research.
“I felt a little ignorant, and I needed to learn a lot to keep up,” Kraemer said.
She read many scientific papers on stem cells and gradually caught up.
“I can really engage in conversations now, and I feel like I’m helping answer the theoretical questions we’re asking,” Kraemer said.
Kraemer said she loves lab work. “Whenever I learn a new procedure I feel like a little kid. I’m like holy cow. That’s so cool,” she said.
Kraemer is invested in the implications of her lab’s research because ultimately she hopes to treat patients through clinical work, possibly in pediatrics, dermatology, or oncology.
“I’d like to be able to completely change someone’s life for the better,” Kraemer said.
Kraemer is part of the first class to graduate in the new Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology concentration.
Outside academics, Kraemer is a co-editor in chief of the Harvard College Global Health Review, a publication she joined her freshman spring in the first year of its publication.
Outside of science, Kraemer’s other passion is music. She has played the flute for 13 years and has played for the Mozart Society Orchestra and with Mather Chamber Music, while also volunteering with MIHNUET, an organization that performs music in nursing homes and hospitals.