Chau Duong ’21 returned to her home in Hanoi, Vietnam, this spring amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Although her academic plans were disrupted, she turned her homecoming into an opportunity to gain real-world experience in her field.
The biochemistry and molecular biology major at Clark University landed an internship as a research assistant at Hanoi-based Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cells and Gene Technology in July. The biomedical research institute develops stem cell applications and gene-based therapies for patients in the Vinmec Healthcare system — one of the leading hospital networks in Vietnam.
Duong deferred from Clark for the fall semester and will spend the next five months assisting the research team to study the biomedical applications of extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted from mesenchymal stem cells cultured under clinical conditions. Her team is currently looking into the possibility of using these therapeutic EVs in the treatment of arthritis.
“I have the opportunity to observe and work with highly advanced technology in the clinical-based lab, experiencing stem cell culturing and molecular biology techniques,” she says. “I feel inspired by the work of the research teams here and in the stem cell and cell therapy research field in general.”
Duong became interested in biology as a high school student and transferred to Clark during her junior year of college. Within two weeks, she had reached out to Professor Charles Jakobsche to join his lab, where she spent two semesters working with graduate student Muyun (Tony) Xu on a liquid-phase organic synthesis of hydrazide-derived peptides. She says she felt welcome in the lab immediately, adding that Xu’s passion for research inspired her to continue looking for more research opportunities.
This spring, she was awarded a Steinbrecher Fellowship that allowed her to spend the summer creating a science blog aimed at simplifying the technical language of research articles to make them accessible to a broader audience. She plans to launch the website, scienceinus.com, next month. Duong also joined Professor Denis Larochelle’s lab just before the pandemic hit. When classes went remote, she began conducting literature-based research from home.
“It was very hard when my study plan suddenly changed, but I felt inspired by all the professors that I have taken courses with during the Spring 2020 semester. They were extremely encouraging and in full support while I was in quarantine camp in Vietnam and still had to conduct my research study online,” she says, adding that her academic adviser, Professor Deborah Robertson, and Larochelle, her research project mentor, were especially helpful over the summer.
Duong plans to work toward her Ph.D. after graduating from Clark and hopes to spend her career doing cancer research, which she says is a prevalent disease in Vietnam.
“Most of the people here don’t go to the hospital to get checked out regularly, so they often find out they have cancer in the last stage of the disease,” she says. “I want to do stem cell applications for cancer therapy or immunotherapy.”
Although Duong originally planned to stay in the United States, she may return to Vietnam after completing her education abroad. Her internship has inspired her to apply what she’s learned to help meet the medical needs of Hanoi.