Thanks to the generous support of Regeneron, each quarter, a local high school student with a passion for science will be paired with a Regeneron scientist so they can learn what it’s like to put STEM education to work in the real world. The River Journal would like to thank Regeneron for opening their doors – and labs – to future scientists from the River Towns.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals looks intimidating to an outside viewer, with sleek, dark architecture that exudes an aura of sophistication and mystery. Inside, in contrast, the walls are painted in bright colors with windows overlooking lush outdoor greens. As a high school student, I had never toured a professional research laboratory before, so I didn’t know what to expect. However, I found the atmosphere inside Regeneron to be both accessible and inviting. While there, I met with staff scientist Anna Zumsteg to discuss research, life at Regeneron, and her work on multi-drug resistant bacteria.
When I first sat down with Dr. Zumsteg, she asked me to tell her about myself. I explained that I’m a sophomore at Sleepy Hollow High School with an interest in science and math. I told her I’m in the process of designing my own research project, and I hope to one day work in STEM. I then asked Dr. Zumsteg why she chose to pursue research. Initially, Anna told me, she wanted to be a pediatrician. However, to get into medical school, she needed research experience. When she started working in labs, she found she enjoyed research more than her pre-med courses. From there, she continued research focusing on microbiology.
According to Anna, what makes her job so appealing is that every day is a different puzzle. She described one of her most enduring memories from her college lab: Her team was modeling the blood brain barrier with endothelial cells and examining the effect that E. Coli had on them. She found that putting E. Coli in contact with cells immediately killed them. Witnessing this brutal biological process firsthand showed Anna how dramatic research could be.
At Regeneron, Anna studies multi-drug resistant bacterial infections, which are caused by bacteria with immunities to traditional antibiotics. To combat this, Anna works with antibodies, which target specific pathogens, as opposed to antibiotics, which impact entire systems. Antibodies are classified as large molecules, meaning they have much longer half-lives than other “small molecule” drugs. This means they can be administered less frequently than other pharmaceuticals. Anna is also involved in a recent collaboration between Regeneron and New York State to advance the diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases.
One of Anna’s favorite parts of working at Regeneron are cross-functional meetings, where she learns about research from other departments. One type of informal gathering, cheekily named “Beers and Bull,” allows scientists to discuss unpublished research in a relaxed setting. The researchers’ passion for their work is part of what makes working at Regeneron so exciting.
After interviewing Anna, I toured her lab! This was exciting because the only lab I’d worked in previously was at school. Anna’s lab was similar to what I had imagined. Everything you’d expect in a lab was there: big robotic machines, petri dishes, vials filled with liquid, and long tables. As we walked through it, Anna described some of the machines. One, called a nucleofector, extracted DNA, and another, called a flow cytometer, allowed scientists to look at individual cells.
Although touring Anna’s lab was exciting, the most gratifying part of my visit to Regeneron occurred near the end of our conversation, when I asked her what advice she’d give to people considering a STEM career. Her answer was to stick with science, because although it requires immense patience, the end result is extremely rewarding. We discussed how one of the most beautiful parts of STEM is that it can help people in so many ways. I’m a firm believer in making science accessible, and Anna agrees. She says research should be about questions and answering them from different angles.
Overall, my experience at Regeneron furthered my interest in pursuing a STEM career, and gave me a glimpse of what that career could involve. I’m immensely thankful for this opportunity, and I am confident that the spirit of scientific questioning will continue through my generation and onwards.