Through the generous support of local biotechnology company Regeneron, four times a year, River Journal and River Journal North publish the on-site report of a River Towns high school science student who is paired with a Regeneron scientist to experience what it is like to put STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education to work in the real world.
Last year when my teacher at Irvington High School told me about the opportunity to interview a Regeneron scientist, I was super excited to participate. I have always had a strong interest in science and having a STEM career.
As a senior year Science Research student, I just applied to the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s most prestigious pre-college science and math competition. I was interested to learn about the inner workings of this well-known research company that I have been hearing about since I joined the Science Research program, and even before, due to the close proximity of its headquarters.
The research I have been focusing on in Science Research examines the relationship between nicotine administration and the immune response in the hindbrain of mice. This is preliminary research for developing a medicine to target nicotine addiction in humans. I completed the computational biology part of the research, which is similar to what Dr. Julie Horowitz does at Regeneron.
Dr. Horowitz is a computational scientist who conducts human genetics research with the goal of trying to understand what genetic factors determine whether or not we develop different autoimmune diseases. She earned her PhD in immunology from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Horowitz works on the Immune, Respiratory and Infectious Disease Genetics Team of the Regeneron Genetics Center, where she focuses on three different categories of diseases: chronic autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis), respiratory or allergic diseases (e.g., asthma and atopic dermatitis), and infectious diseases (e.g., COVID-19).
As part of her research, Dr. Horowitz looks at new data sets to assess patients for many factors including new genetic associations that might inform scientists on appropriate drugs to treat the disease present in that cohort. She also spends much of her time consulting with scientists in a wide variety of departments across Regeneron to help inform their approach to research. She talks to scientists who work with animal models in laboratories and other pre-clinical models of disease, as well as researchers who design clinical trials to see how some of their molecules might be most effective in treating different diseases. The communication between these different scientists is imperative for Regeneron to fulfill its mission of “[bringing] new medicines to patients … over and over again.”
To Dr. Horowitz, the most interesting part of her research is the drug discovery work that she is involved in, which focuses on finding new drug targets for diseases that do not currently have existing effective medications. She finds this research incredibly exciting and is motivated by the benefits her work will have for patients in the future. Dr. Horowitz is involved in many promising projects that she hopes will reach a clinical level soon.
I was curious to know what Dr. Horowitz’s favorite scientific fact was. Her answer was that humans have the most nerve receptors in the gastrointestinal tract, so there is a lot of cross talk between the brain and stomach. This, she explained, is why we get a nervous stomach before giving a presentation and why sometimes when we feel sick, we feel it all over our bodies.
Dr. Horowitz had a lot of advice for future scientific researchers. First, keep an open mind to new scientific experiences and always ask good questions because you never know where your science, and the answers to those questions, will lead you. Second, never be afraid to be wrong. She believes that it is important to be curious and follow your passion. A career in biomedical sciences, she says, can be incredibly rewarding because your work can directly affect patients’ lives.