New Summer Program in Israel Inspires Student Researchers

AUGUST 22, 2016 - A new summer program housed in the School of Nursing & Health Studies took five undergraduates to Israel for six weeks of intensive research and cultural immersion.

The six-credit program, hosted by the Sheba Medical Center in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, ran from June 27-August 4 and focused on genetics, health, and society in Israel.

Ronit Yarden, PhD, assistant professor of human science, created the program with her colleague Daniel Merenstein, MD, associate professor of family medicine and human science. “It was a wonderful and transformative experience,” says Yarden, who notes that Sheba is “. . . the premier medical research center in Israel and the largest medical center in the Middle East.”

“They absolutely loved it, and it was a great success,” she says.

Immersion Experience

During the program, Yarden taught students the fundamentals of genetics. Merenstein provided them with a foundation in epidemiology.

Yarden notes that the students also heard lectures by world-renowned Israeli researchers and clinicians, learned about ethics and cultural approaches to genetic counseling and testing within diverse Jewish and Muslim communities, participated in regional experiences such as a cooking class with produce from a local market, took tours to holy sites in Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee, and visited Masada, an ancient desert fortress.

Students also attended the first international conference on founder populations, witnessed a laparoscopic surgery, and teamed up with research laboratories and mentors to conduct their own scientific projects.

The participants, she says, did a great job. “Students were able to choose the research labs and projects they wanted to join and were very engaged with their projects,” she says. “The Sheba researchers were very impressed with our students and their commitment to the scientific process.”

Student Reflections

As part of the program, students were required to do in-class assignments, laboratory research, a final paper, and a culminating presentation before principal investigators at Sheba Medical Center, says Yarden, who notes that the undergraduates focused on topics related to the genetics of breast and lung cancer, leukemia, psoriasis, and a rare condition associated with consanguineous marriages.

The students also kept individual blogs about the journey.

“I can’t believe this is the last week in Israel,” writes Meg Crowley (NHS’18). “The time flew by so fast, but I am glad we got to see so much of this diverse and beautiful country. . . . [My research presentation] was a great way to really see just how much I was able to accomplish and learn in one month. I had such a great experience with this program and hope that someday I make it back to Israel.”

Niritta Patel (NHS’19) echoes the sentiment.

“The end of my time in Israel is quite bittersweet,” she writes. “Though I am sad to depart from this beautiful country and its friendly inhabitants, I shall always treasure the many wonderful memories I made here. Six weeks isn’t much time, but it’s definitely enough to grow attached to a place.”

Other students on the trip include Elisabeth Arruda (NHS’18), Emma Cammann (C’17), and Shayna Glassberg (GWU’18).

A Team Effort

Yarden says that she and Merenstein are grateful for the hospitality shown to them and the students by their hosts at Sheba Medical Center.

She especially thanks Yehudit Birger, PhD, senior investigator of the research section on leukemia and childhood malignancies, Shai Izraeli, MD, head of the section of functional genomics and childhood leukemia and cancer research, and Shlomo Noy, MD, PhD, vice president of research and development.

Additionally, Yarden and Merenstein point to assistance from the NHS Office of the Dean and Georgetown’s Office of Global Education while launching the new program. They also thank the Israeli Embassy for providing financial support.

(Editor's Note: Students who are interested in participating in a future trip should email Ronit Yarden, PhD.)

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