A woman in a lab coat holding a beaker
Abigail Andrade conducted research this summer at the Institute of Immunology at the Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein’s hospital in Kiel, Germany. (Contributed photo)

Student’s internship in Germany brings valuable research experience

Abigail Andrade, a senior, worked with students as part of a study to find new ways to diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases.

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Abigail Andrade, a senior majoring in biology, physics and Spanish in the College of Humanities and Sciences and a member of the Honors College at Virginia Commonwealth University, participated in the DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program in Germany this summer.

RISE Germany is a summer program for undergraduate students from North America, the United Kingdom and Ireland and part of a partnership with German universities and research institutions. The program is paid for by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Andrade said she learned about the program from an information session offered by the National Scholarship Office.

“It just started with me wanting to explore more of the world and this really gave me the opportunity to do so while also doing research, which is something else I love,” she said.

The program came with a scholarship, covering all of Andrade’s fees, including travel and housing. She also received financial support from the VCU Internship Funding Program.

Andrade did her research with the Institute of Immunology at the Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein’s hospital in the city of Kiel. Her team is focused on the adaptive immune system, which is focused on making memory cells in response to diseases and vaccines.

“Our body remembers when we've been infected,” she said.

Andrade’s team is trying to find new ways to diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases by looking at the interaction between the T and B cells in the body, using mice as models.

She worked alongside two Ph.D. students who are working on their theses. While the Ph.D. students focused on immune response, Andrade spent her time on the memory cells.

The students went out of their way to make Andrade feel welcome. They picked her up from the airport, introduced her to every person in the lab building, and took the time to teach Andrade on top of completing their work.

“That show of compassion really brought me into the lab, and they've just made me feel so integrated in it,” she said. “Our lab is like a little family almost, even though we're all working on our own things … we always have lunch together and go on outings outside of the lab – like our beach trips.”

Andrade is considering a career in medicine and said her research experience this summer has given her a new perspective on the field, including fresh knowledge and appreciation for the “nuances and intricacies of the immune system of the body.”

“I think it has really taught me a lot about that and given me a new view into that field of medicine,” Andrade said.

While she may publish a journal article from her findings, Andrade said she’s leaving this internship with some new research techniques and experiences.

“I want to leave with so much knowledge about traveling, and of myself, and meeting new people and being open to all these different new ideas and perspectives and the German culture itself,” she said.

Students interested in applying for the RISE scholarship can contact the National Scholarship Office for assistance.