For the first in a series of posts from participants in this summer's LifeSci NYC Internship Program, we hear from Aminoor Rashid, who spent the summer at Lucerna, Inc., an R&D company working to create tools to visualize and study RNA.
As the only child of working immigrant parents, I spent many hours of my childhood in front of the glowing screen of a television. As neither of my parents worked in STEM fields, my introduction to science and technology came in the form of science fiction through classics like Blade Runner, Star Trek, and Jurassic Park. No other genre had such a strong pull on me, and I found myself lost in imagination of what science could accomplish. Would it be possible to control the weather and bring rain to drought-hit lands? Could we create super-crops to feed the hungry and malnourished? What if we provided amputee soldiers with mechanical limbs that made them stronger—and doubled as a fashion accessory? With the overstated stories of ’80s cinema fueling my imagination, there was nothing left unconsidered by my impressionable brain. Looking back at my childhood, I realize how important these moments were in driving me towards the sciences and how grateful I felt to immigrate to a city where I could study and reach such fields.
Many things have changed since then, and much of the technology I fantasized about has become reality. It is now possible to monitor your vitals through a wristwatch, and we can grow meat on a Petri dish. Biotechnology has come a long way, and there are many new startups exploring the outer bounds of what science can do. This is why I am pleased to work with LifeSci NYC this summer, exploring what it is like to work at one of New York City’s cutting-edge science companies.
I spent the last 10 weeks at Lucerna Inc., a research and development company working to create research tools to visualize and study RNA. RNA is a major component in all cellular processes and is responsible for many currently untreatable diseases. Despite its importance, we lack the ability to meaningfully study RNA. Bridging this gap with purposeful research will uncover new opportunities, including drug discoveries. As an R&D intern, I have been tasked with optimizing the cost and efficiency of the assay development process. (An assay is, essentially, a process to assess the presence and amount of a substance; for instance, it could measure the level of hormones in blood or the potency of a vaccine.) My strategy involved testing commercially available kits from different companies to determine which one produced the highest yield of RNA at the lowest cost. As an alternative approach, I introduced mutations in the key enzyme required to produce RNA to see if I could generate enzymes with superior activities than those found in commercial kits. This was a laborious process that certainly kept me busy for the past 10 weeks. With the project still on going, I am excited to see my results and test new hypotheses.
Working for Lucerna has challenged my problem-solving abilities in a manner unlike any of my previous experiences. Despite facing frustrations and challenges, I truly feel like I am working on the frontline of a new technology and am able to practice the science I imagined doing as a child. Looking back at my childhood, I am grateful for all the opportunities New York City has provided me since immigrating here. I found new interests, and I received a great education that let me pursue those interests. The city opened its doors to me, and I am grateful to it and the LifeSci NYC program for the opportunity to practice my passion so close to home.