More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90% of them have Type 2 diabetes. This summer, IUPUI junior Maddie Lisenko is helping conduct research to get a deeper understanding of the disease at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Lisenko, from northern Indiana, grabbed the opportunity to travel while gaining more research experience. In May, she packed up her car to move across the country, driving 25 hours to Arizona.
“I knew I wanted to try summer research because I could go somewhere else,” she said. “I hadn’t really left (Indiana) before, so I literally looked up ‘summer internships for undergraduates’ in Google and looked through a bunch of them, and I applied to five or so.”
The Mayo Clinic was the first to respond.
“They saw my application and said, ‘We do similar work here, and we’d like to invite you to our lab if you want to come here.’”
The lab is a familiar place for Lisenko, who is a biochemistry major in the School of Science at IUPUI. She started out as pre-med when she came to campus, and she wanted to get lab experience to boost her resume. As a first-year student, she found a posting on Handshake and started helping in a lab studying kidney disorders. After that, she was hooked on research.
“I just loved it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I need to be in a lab.’”
Lisenko said she was inspired by watching the postdocs working in the lab and realized, “I want to be doing this and working on discovering the treatments rather than applying them to direct patient care.”
Going into her sophomore year, she applied for another opportunity at IUPUI through the Life-Health Sciences Internship Program and was selected to work under a graduate student in the IU School of Medicine.
“You get to work in somebody’s lab and have your own mini project that’s related to theirs,” Lisenko said. “So you do your own work under them, they train you, and you get to present it at the end of the year.
“I studied Type I diabetes and did a bunch of tissue staining and looked at the islets. A pancreas is faulty if you are a Type I diabetic because it can’t secrete insulin, so we wanted to look at how stress impacts beta cells.”
She spent about 10 hours a week working in the lab, staining and analyzing mice pancreas tissue.
This work with the IU School of Medicine is what caught the attention of researchers at the Mayo Clinic, who are looking at similar correlations between stress and Type 2 diabetes.
“I am working on cell lines from mice that have a Type 2 diabetes phenotype,” Lisenko said. “We are using them to study T2D and look specifically at how endoplasmic reticulum stress can contribute to the disease. I work a lot with cell culturing and doing treatments on them to see if we can counteract the stress levels.
“We are also trying to use nanoparticle drug delivery systems to assist in treating stress. It’s more molecular-biology-based science, which is something a bit out of my comfort zone, but it’s shown me how the things I learn in class really do apply to the field.”
When she’s not in the Mayo Clinic lab, she is enjoying the Arizona sun, the mountains and making new friends out West. This fall, she will make the road trip back to Indianapolis and continue researching in a materials science lab.
You can also find her working with VIDA Health Partnerships at IUPUI, a volunteer-based student organization that implements community-based health and development projects. Lisenko also serves on the School of Science Undergraduate Student Council to help make changes that will meet students’ needs on campus.
Along with research, she has found a love for teaching. Tutoring students in biology and chemistry has lit up a love for education and shifted her career aspirations to one day becoming a professor and working on her own research.
“I like teaching and helping people,” Lisenko said. “If I have my own lab, then people can join and get experience early on, because sometimes it’s hard to get into a lab during undergrad. I just want to provide a space for people who will be future scientists because you have to help bring those people up if you’ve already been through it.”
Lisenko said she is excited to see what other doors will open during her time at IUPUI. She is ready to jump right in to new opportunities and experiences, and she encourages others to as well.
“Don’t hold yourself back; just go put yourself out there,” she said. “You want to give yourself as many opportunities as you can to explore the things you’re interested in and find out if it’s really what you want to do. I found out a lot more about myself and my interests while being here, and I don’t know how long it would’ve taken if I didn’t do this program.”