Academic Spotlight: Elizabeth McGregor

 Ellie McGregor ’22 with a heart in her hands

 Ellie McGregor ’22 has been a member of the cancer research program at Western Reserve Academy for three years. In the program, students can learn the basics of the lab as well as move onto independent projects and explore cells and diseases on their own.

During the quarantine period of COVID-19, McGregor became interested in the theory of heart cells beating in a petri dish. This idea came to fruition last year when students could begin their individual research on the topics they are interested in. “Using stem cell technology, the team in REMEDI has shown that skin cells can be transformed, or reprogrammed, into beating heart cells in a petri dish. This is the first step in an ambitious project to develop stem cell models of heart disease associated with unexpected sudden death” (National Children’s Research Center).

While she could not acquire cardiomyocytes, she did have access to embryonic stem cells- which she could differentiate into cardiomyocytes using hormones and other growth factors. She found a cardiomyocyte differentiation kit which she still plans to use once her cells are ready. To produce beating heart cells, she will need to follow protocols and change the media everyday, but even then it is still a complicated process. McGregor has been working tirelessly in the lab for over a year now, determined to make a life changing breakthrough: “Even if I don’t get the true final product of beating hearts in my petri dish, I am still beyond proud over how far I’ve come and the progress I have made. This would still be an immense achievement and an amazing learning experience.”

One slight mistake can alter the entire end goal and ultimately ruin her research. She lost all of her cryotubes that were stored this summer because of a simple miscommunication when filling the nitrogen tanks. The loss of these tubes almost affected over a year’s worth of work, but she is back on track and is hoping to become the first teenager to ever achieve such an accomplishment. Her research not only advances the knowledge of one individual, but growing these cells properly is very impressive and scientifically important.

– Claire Lovas ’22

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