Researcher of the Month
Major: Biology, Psychology, Class of 2023
Research Mentor: Dr. David Komatsu, Department of Orthopaedics
“… being in a research lab was really an opportunity to apply and actively engage with the information that I was learning in lectures, and on zoom and everything.”- Nadine Areikat, class of 2023
Research has been the throughline of Nadine Areikat’s undergraduate education at Stony Brook. She joined a research laboratory in her freshman year, participated in the URECA Summer program in summer 2021 as well as the selective NIH Summer Internship Program in summer 2022, and is now, in her senior year, completing a biology honors thesis on Characterization of Apoptosis During Murine Fracture Repair under the mentorship of Dr. David Komatsu (Department of Orthopaedics, Renaissance School of Medicine). Nadine has presented research posters at multiple venues, from URECA poster symposia on campus to professional conferences in San Diego, California and Tampa, Florida.
But it may surprise some to learn that Nadine’s placement in the Molecular and Cellular Orthopaedic Laboratory of Dr. Komatsu came about through the fortuitous choice of a one-credit freshman 102 seminar on Science Fiction which her future P.I. happened to be teaching.
Soon after Nadine conveyed her genuine interest in doing research, she interviewed for and was invited to join the Komatsu Lab. There she focused on mastering laboratory techniques of qPCR arrays, western blots and histological staining; and learning fundamentals of molecular biology. Nadine went on to present her work at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Annual Meeting, the Musculoskeletal Repair and Regeneration Annual Symposium, and the Orthopaedic Research Society Annual Meeting. Most importantly, Nadine maintained a high level of curiosity and engagement with her research activities throughout her time in the lab. This past summer, Nadine had the opportunity to work with Dr. Paul Hwang of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute through the NIH Summer Internship program.
On campus, Nadine has been active as President of the Doctors without Borders Student Chapter (2020-22), as a Representative of the Undergraduate Biology Advisory Board (2020-present), as a Mentor with the INSPIRE program (Include New Students through Peer Introduction to Research Experience); and as a Teaching Assistant for Organic Chemistry, and Organisms to Ecosystems. She was also a Resident Assistant (2020-21) and an Undergraduate Fellow.
Nadine aspires to be a physician specializing in emergency medicine. She has worked as a COVID-19 Tester; gained experience as a Medical Assistant with the Heart Associates of Long Island, and has interned and shadowed with the Stony Brook Medicine Emergency Department. Additionally, she worked as an EMT with Mamaroneck Village EMS from 2017-2020.
On track to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Psychology, Nadine vividly recalls the pandemic experience, particularly being sent home in spring 2020, her freshman year --and afterwards adjusting to a mostly virtual format for classwork including laboratory courses. In contrast to the virtual classroom experience which she found to be difficult to engage with, being in a research lab “gave me an outlet from the virtual learning environment that I was in most of the time. It gave me an opportunity to really apply the knowledge that I was learning. And I would say that through my lab experience, research became my main source of information and knowledge.”
Nadine is a graduate of Harrison HS, Westchester County, New York; her hobbies include: painting, reading, and listening to music. Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your current research.
Nadine: I’m working in the Department of Orthopaedics with Dr. David Komatsu. I've worked on several projects, but my main project is the characterization of apoptosis during fracture healing. Our goal in this big study is to elucidate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie skeletal regeneration after a fracture injury. By improving our understanding of these processes, we hope to pave the path for developing pharmaceuticals that inhibit apoptosis, to see if that can improve the rate and quality of fracture healing.
How did you first get involved with the Komatsu lab?
That's actually kind of a fun story. When I was starting out at Stony Brook, I knew I wanted to get involved in research, but I didn't really know how. In my first semester, I was just getting used to being a college student, and joining clubs and extracurriculars. But then in my second semester, I chose to take a freshman seminar course on Science Fiction that Dr. Komatsu was teaching. And it turned out to be one of my most memorable classes! We would watch Sci-fi movies and then analyze actual real-life advancements that kind of generated the plot and inspired the movies, and I remember I did a project on Wall-E. And it was just a really fun class.
One day after class, I asked Dr. Komatsu about joining his orthopedic research lab, and that led to an interview. And I was quickly invited to be a part of the lab—and everything seemed to be going great. Except this all happened just shortly before the pandemic closed our campus and we were all sent home. …So I was super ecstatic when I was invited back that following July to return to work in the lab in person, because I thought I had lost that chance of having an in-person research experience. And I’ve stayed with the lab ever since!
What is the lab environment like to work in? Is it a big lab?
I was fortunate when I started to have that personalized mentorship, where Dr. Komatsu was working with me individually, helping me to learn and do everything in the lab. But I’ve also enjoyed being part of this lab as it’s grown and become more dynamic. We now have had rotating medical students come in, plus a few more undergrads joined, and a PhD student as well. And overall, it's a very supportive environment where we're all learning together. We all work together as a group, and we give each other feedback, and help each other with our projects. We work as a team.
How have you benefitted from your involvement in the Komatsu lab?
First of all, Dr. Komatsu is an amazing mentor. He's so supportive in helping us in our own journeys. And this mentorship is something I’ve come to better appreciate over time. When I started out as a freshman, I had a very basic and flawed foundational understanding of molecular biology, and Dr. Komatsu really took the time to work side by side with me, not only in teaching me how to physically perform experiments and learn lab techniques, but to really explain the concepts that inspired what we were studying in the lab. He taught me concepts that I hadn't yet been introduced to in my biology courses. Most of my classes were online, including my lab classes where I was learning virtually how to use a pipette and how to perform laboratory techniques. And so I found that working in his research lab gave me an outlet from the virtual learning environment that I was in most of the time. It gave me an opportunity to really apply the knowledge that I was learning. And I would say that through my lab experience, research became my main source of information and knowledge: it felt like my online lectures were secondary, because I was learning so much about molecular and cellular biology from doing research in my lab. Without that experience of being in my research lab, I feel like my education would have been incomplete.
What do you enjoy most about doing research?
For me research was really a pillar in my education; it was such an integral component of learning at Stony Brook University. I think many students would agree with me when I say that the whole pandemic experience of learning online was a very hindering experience. It was very hard at times to really retain the information and engage with it, especially in the lab courses where we would watch videos on laboratory techniques, but not really get to perform them. So being in a research lab was really an opportunity to apply and actively engage with the information that I was learning in lectures, and on zoom and everything.
And it was really fun, even when I made mistakes. Because then it’s a mystery and you get to question: what went wrong? where is the mistake? And having to troubleshoot becomes a really big puzzle to solve. You want to put everything together and see where it fits, and there's not just one right answer. Plus you never get bored. There's always something new to do. There's always something new to discover, and it's such a dynamic field that I never really knew anything about before starting school here.
What was most surprising about the undergraduate research experience?
I didn't have any prior research experience in high school before joining the Komatsu Lab. So everything was very new and exciting to me. I definitely was surprised by how much troubleshooting is involved, and how much is unknown. From an outside perspective, it can seem like we know so much about everything – from what we learn in lectures and read in textbooks. But once you really dive into the field of orthopedics, or, molecular biology generally, you realize how much we really don't know, or we're not really confident in our understanding of. And so that actually was really interesting to me, because there's so much that we don't know yet, and the more you explore the more you realize there's more to be discovered. Understanding that has inspired me to continue doing research, hopefully beyond my undergraduate career. I do see myself doing research in medical school, and hopefully as a physician as well.
Have you had opportunities to present your research?
Yes, I've actually been able to go to a few exciting conferences and presentation. My first poster presentation was at URECA 2021, where we had a Biology zoom presentations. Since then I was able to present at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research meeting in San Diego. And I also went the Orthopedic Research Society Annual Meeting, in Tampa, Florida, and I participated in the Musculoskeletal Repair and Regeneration online symposium hosted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
All of these conferences were really exciting, in different ways. At URECA I was able to present to people who had little to no knowledge about orthopedics or bone physiology and that gave me valuable practice in explaining my project. But then, at those more specialized conferences where there were experts in the field there, I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to communicate my scientific findings and understand the findings of others—even though it was intimidating at first. I definitely got some interesting questions that actually widened my perspective in my own study, and made me think about certain receptors and signaling molecules that I hadn't really considered before. And it was also just really fun to see other people's related research and how it was connected to my own work.
How did you get involved with mentoring other students on campus – with the INSPIRE program?
I was invited to join the Undergraduate Biology Advisory committee which included leaders of different clubs on campus. I was president of Doctors Without Borders Student Chapter for two years. And when Dr. Gergen invited me to be a mentor, I was paired with a freshman who was very excited about research. She was very interested in evolution and environmental science. But we actually both learned from each other and it was really fun being able to answer her questions about research. I could see how much more confident she became throughout the semester, and also just to feel comfortable talking about science.
Tell me about your recent summer experience.
I participated in the NIH summer internship program last summer, and I worked specifically within the division of the Heart Lung and Blood Institute in the cardiovascular branch. My project basically involved studying gene expression for mitochondrial function. It was a nice complement to the work I’ve done in orthopaedics, and used a lot of similar techniques (pPCR arrays, western blots, etc). And I learned how to work more independently, and troubleshoot by myself.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in research?
Even if you feel embarrassed to go up to a professor after class and ask them about their research, my advice is that you have to take that first step and step out of your comfort zone to get new experiences. You have to chase after opportunities because these opportunities aren't just handed to you, and you can’t expect that someone will just invite you into their lab. It is kind of a competitive process where you have to put yourself out there, and make it very well known that you are eager and passionate about getting involved, and really want to learn.
Have you found summer research to be generally valuable?
Definitely! The summer gives you the opportunity to really just dive into your research project. During the semester you have classes and other extracurriculars, and it's easy for your research to become more of a side project. But in a summer program, you get to really jump in and do all the experiments you've been meaning to do, all the experiments you've been planning and you're not really restricted with time. You get the full experience of being a researcher, and it's a really fun experience. …. I actually try to tell everyone I know who's in research to apply to URECA!