Translational Research at the Titchenell Lab

Olivia Ong, COL ’24, Wellesley, MA

This summer, I had the opportunity to continue my work at the Titchenell Lab in the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism at Penn Medicine. As a translational research lab, the Titchenell Lab aims to understand the underlying mechanisms that drive metabolic deregulation in disease with the goal of identifying new therapies. For the past 2 years, I have been working with Anna Garcia-Whitlock on her project on stress-induced hyperglycemia, and this past summer I was able to witness her PhD thesis defense for this project!

Playing a role in Anna’s project has been very inspiring to me, as the project holds great potential in saving millions of lives in the ICU. Stress-induced hyperglycemia (SIH) affects 10-25% of trauma patients and is associated with a twofold increase in mortality and increased risk of organ failure. While insulin therapy has been the typical treatment for SIH, controversy remains as overtreatment with insulin is associated with hypoglycemic events and even mortality. The originality in Anna’s research question lies in her focus on the role of glucagon in SIH. Using trauma and hemorrhage animal models, our work has shown great promise in treating SIH with glucagon antagonists. Working alongside her has taught me much about the direct role research plays in patient care and the scientific methods that go behind developing new therapies.

This summer, I became more involved in the metabolomics aspect of Anna’s research. The basis of metabolomics involves radioactively labeling metabolites and using mass spectrometry to reveal pathway activities. I took part in several mouse infusion experiments to study glycogen mobilization in mice. Through these experiments, I developed my skills in setting up infusions, collecting blood, dissections, and tissue collection. The infusion experiments were a huge learning experience for me, as the long hours and complicated set-up revealed the many ways an experiment can go wrong. The complexity of these experiments pushed me to learn how to effectively adapt to spontaneous issues and troubleshoot.

Compared to last summer, I entered this summer with a stronger grasp on the complex metabolic topics relevant to my lab. After completing biochemistry and cell biology this past year, I have found that the scientific jargon and pathways I encounter in the lab are not as difficult as they were before. I am  slowly getting better at analyzing data and understanding the complex discussions my lab members partake in. I am looking forward to further strengthening my knowledge base in metabolic research. 

Beyond my time in the lab, I was incredibly grateful for the educational experiences I’ve had outside the lab. I was able to attend Anna’s surgical research conference where I got to hear various surgery residents and medical students present their research. The wide range of research I learned about opened my eyes to the various ways I can incorporate research into my future career as a physician. Looking forward, I plan to take part in my own independent research study in the fall, in which I will be studying the metabolic pathways involved in muscle atrophy. This rewarding summer would not have been possible without Penn Career Services!

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here

By Career Services
Career Services