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Research Experience Helps Guide Career Choices for Undergrad

Tomás Meijome |2013 B.S., Biology
Graduate Student, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine 

Update: Tomas Meijome graduated from the School of Science in May 2013 and is currently pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tomás Meijome is quick to say that as an Argentine, he, of course, plays soccer. What he can also say is that what he is learning in various IUPUI laboratories is preparing him for a career as a physician-researcher who may someday help bring discoveries from the bench to the bedside.

A School of Science sophomore, it was his anatomy and physiology teacher at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana, who turned him onto science. She constantly challenged him with novel and intriguing ideas, recognizing in him a certain spark and aptitude and ultimately encouraging him to go into the life sciences.

After living and attending schools in the outskirts of Buenos Aires and across the United States from Utah, Arizona and Oklahoma to Indiana, he elected to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Marcelo and attend IUPUI.

Once on campus Meijome headed straight for the School of Science where he enrolled in both biology and chemistry courses with plans to major in biology, apply to medical school and earn an M.D. degree. By his second semester he had been selected as a peer mentor for students taking introductory chemistry. By his sophomore year he was one of three program coordinators and training other mentors.

Exploring options for the summer between freshman and sophomore years, he had learned of the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program at IUPUI, which gets students from groups underrepresented in the sciences into labs very early in their college careers. He’d never really thought about doing research but decided to give it a try. He applied for and was accepted by the program.

“I thought it would be interesting to try working in a lab, but had no idea what kind of basic science research I might want to do. The LSAMP Program was an ideal way for me to test the waters and see if I liked research, he recalls.

Under the mentorship of Fengyu Song, D.D.S., Ph.D., of the IU School of Dentistry and the School of Science’s Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine, Meijome spent the summer working in the rapidly advancing field of regenerative medicine. His research compared tissue characteristics in the axolotl, a salamander that has the unique ability to regenerate appendages following any level of amputation, with those of the xenopus laevis, also known as the African clawed frog, whose limbs do not regenerate. As limb regeneration in the axolotl occurs when cells dedifferentiate and accumulate at the amputation site under the skin of the wound, he focused on the muscle, skin and cartilage tissue.

“Dr. Song encouraged me to do much of my work independently, which appealed to me and gave me a bigger sense of achievement. I learned a lot not only about regenerative medicine in her lab, but also about myself. I really like research and I have decided that I would like to become an M.D./Ph.D.--a physician researcher,” he said.

Clearly on the right path, in the fall he received first place for his scientific poster presentation at the statewide LSAMP research conference, competing against students from the other members of the Indiana LSAMP program: Ball State, Indiana State, IU-Bloomington, IU Northwest, Purdue University – Calumet, Purdue University – North Central, and Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Tomás Meijome in labHe credits his LSAMP experience with his success in entering the IUPUI’s Diversity Scholars Research Program, which provides scholarship funding and undergraduate research opportunities in preparation for graduate studies. As a sophomore, he is also a participant in the IUPUI Life-Health Sciences Internship Program and is working in the laboratory of Melissa Kacena, Ph.D., in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the IU School of Medicine, where he is helping her explore the interaction of bone and blood cell formation with the goal of improving the treatment of metabolic bone disease and fracture healing.

Between the many hours in the lab and classrooms, Meijome’s days are pretty hectic, but he is able to find time to play intramural soccer, lacrosse and flag football and to think about a career translating research into medical practice.