National Board Member receives Graduate Research Fellowship

National Membership Coordinator, Jennifer Petsche of Lambda, was recently awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. She, along with 2000 other graduate students, received the fellowship which covers her tuition and a stipend for up to three years so she can conduct her research.

Petsche is currently pursuing her PhD in Bioengineering at Rice University (Houston, TX). She became interested in medical research when she was just barely a teenager.

“I first became interested in medical research back in middle school. My dad showed me a couple news articles: one about cancer research and one about implanting an artificial ear on the back of a mouse. I thought it was fascinating and decided then that I wanted to do medical research,” says Petsche.

Recipients of the NSF Fellowship receive three years of [tuition] support, an annual stipend of $30,000 for their research and a $10,500 cost of education allowance. Applicants are evaluated based on intellectual merit and broader impacts.

“For broader impacts, they seem to care most about what your broader impacts as an individual will be (rather than what that of your research will be), so they look at things like do you work with undergraduates or younger kids or working to promote diversity in science (just for example). I wrote about DXP and my involvement as an undergraduate and continuing now on the national board in the personal statement of my application,” says Petsche.

Petsche pursued the NSF Fellowship for several reasons. It is a prestigious honor to receive the fellowship and she’s not the only on in the family to receive it. Petsche’s mother received the same fellowship when she was a grad student.

Petsche conducts research in tissue engineering, specifically working on finding a cell source for cardiac tissue engineering. Tissue engineering is the generation of replacement tissue for disease, wounds or congenital defects. She is currently studying stem cells that are gotten from amniotic fluid as a possible cell source. Petsche gets her cells from amniotic fluid that is removed as part of the intervention for twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, fluid that needs to be removed and would normally be discarded.

“These cells have shown a lot of promise: they appear to have similar potential to embryonic stem cells to make at cell types in the body, but they don’t form tumors (embryonic stem cells do, but adult stem cells typically don’t) and they avoid the ethical issue around embryonic stem cells,” says Petsche.

“My research aims are to study the best ways to culture these cells to maintain their pluripotency (ability to make cells form all over the body; all three germ layers) and how to differentiate them into cardiomyocytes.”

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