Jack Drda ’24 is a biology major with plans to enter the medical field. He’s researched rare plant species, the effects of invasive species on trees and a rare autoinflammatory disorder. He’s also served an internship in a hospital system—an experience that included transcribing notes for practitioners delivering medical care to a local homeless population.
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Clubs and organizations:
Residence Life & Housing (Resident Advisor), Alpha Lambda Delta, National Society of Leadership and Success, Astronomy Club and Pre-health Society
Presidential Scholar, Dean’s List and First-Year Chemistry Award.
Best thing about my Dickinson experience:
Office hours with professors. Sitting with professors outside of the classroom, I get to ask more creative and intriguing questions. From these interactions, I become passionate about the material we are learning.
Best thing about my major:
I enjoy the diversity of the field. One day I am in a cell culture hood pipetting; the next day I find myself hiking up a mountain to survey a rare plant species. With biology, I always feel as though there is something new to get excited about—whether it may be an understudied species or a familiar model organism that can elucidate a new biochemical process. Most important, studying biology enables me to explore my two passions: the natural world and medicine.
Favorite class/learning experience so far:
Biology 560 (Student-Faculty Collaborative Research) with Associate Professor of Biology Carol Loeffler. Conducting research with Professor Loeffler was the first time that I learned outside of the classroom in a field-based setting. During this research experience, Professor Loeffler and I studied the population dynamics of eastern hemlocks and the invasive, parasitic hemlock woolly adelgid. The surveys we completed ran from January to March and often involved hiking mountainsides, scrambling over rocks or walking through a fresh snowfall to collect tree samples. While hiking, I would ask Professor Loeffler about plant genetics, ecology and identification. Learning biology in a one-on-one setting surrounded by a snowy forest was an extraordinary experience.
I hope to attend medical school with an emphasis on translational biomedical research.
My first job was a candy maker/chocolatier; I am proficient in making some fan-favorite treats: hard candies, chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, and peanut brittle. I am also an avid hiker and SCUBA diver.
About my internship:
During summer 2021, I was an intern at UPMC Central Pennsylvania hospitals. I was fortunate enough to spend the entire summer gaining clinical experience in the fields of gastroenterology, cardiology, emergency medicine, surgery, anesthesia, internal medicine and much more. I would attend daily lectures with the hospital residents, conduct rounds with the attending physicians, and participate in medical-literature reviews. For me, what was most exciting about this program was that it exposed me to the realities of medicine while I am an undergraduate. Many of the opportunities in the program were analogous to clinical rotations in medical school, and this exposure was invaluable as it guided my decision to pursue medicine.
My most memorable experience of the internship was participating in a street medicine program, where medical professionals travel to underserved communities and provide care onsite. During this rotation, I visited homeless camps and helped scribe for the medical professionals. Since I live locally, it was eye-opening to visit these sites and see firsthand the medical disparities that persist in my community. This experience upended my perspective on where and when medical care can be provided. Furthermore, I now realize that for healthcare to be more accessible and equitable, community outreach is essential—whether or not medical care takes place in the hospital setting.
If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …
… Michael Faraday.
About my research:
On campus, I have taken part in two research projects, one biomedical and the other field-based.
The first research project involved studying the rare, autoinflammatory disorder mevalonate kinase deficiency (MKD). In patients with MKD, an underlying genetic defect prevents them from producing isoprenoids. A reduction in isoprenoids results in an elevated immune response. Working with Associate Professor of Biology Tiffany Frey, I mimic MKD by depleting isoprenoids with the drug lovastatin in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). Partnering with the Wellness Center, Professor Frey and I have developed a blood-draw protocol where blood can be collected sustainably on campus through student volunteers. Once PBMCs are extracted, cultured, and treated with lovastatin, the cells are stimulated to produce an immune response. Following this stimulation, microRNA (miRNA) levels are assessed. Since miRNAs can modify gene expression, monitoring miRNA can help explain how the immune system is regulated. Therefore, these results can help clarify how faulty regulation of the immune system leads to the clinical symptoms seen in MKD patients.
The second project involves studying the population dynamics of eastern hemlocks and the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). The HWA is a parasitic insect that feeds on the eastern hemlock’s sugar supply at the base of the tree’s needles. Diverting sugar stores away from the tree, the HWA negatively impacts tree health and can lead to mortality of the host tree. By collecting tree samples and measuring adelgid prevalence, I monitor the health of eastern hemlocks relative to HWA abundance for that particular year. Results indicate that each species affects the viability of the other. For example, if HWA numbers peak in a particular year, the new growth of the tree is often stunted. However, the following year, HWA populations start to decline due to the HWA preferring this new growth. With this HWA decline, the host tree produces new growth, which can perpetuate a peak in HWA prevalence in the following years. Professor Carol Loeffler and I have found that this process cycles over a four-year period in central-Pennsylvania forests. The results of this long-term study are currently being published.
Most important thing I’ve learned so far:
Find the people in your life who value you for the person that you already are. Never compromise or distort your values to simply match the values held by another.
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Published June 23, 2022