Early diagnosis creates a lifelong interest in science and medicine
Senior Isha Mehrotra works to find out more about autoimmune diseases, for the future in which patients can be treated effectively or the condition can be completely avoided.
“Five second rule!” Her classmates shouted as they ran to get food thrown on the ground. At that moment, 10-year-old Isha Mehrotra knew what to do for the annual science fair.
After exploring the Internet with her father, Mehrotra learned how to breed bacteria from home, first putting food on her kitchen floor and rubbing samples on agar plates – her first microbiology project. She remembers presenting data to her peers, watching their faces fall because they realized how many bacteria were in the food even after just five seconds. This experience inspired Mehrotra to learn about the natural world and, more importantly, to share that knowledge with others.
Mehrotra, now a senior biologist, enjoys the exploratory quality of science.
She says, “The more you study science, the more you realize what you don’t know about it.
MIT is a place for Mehrotra to learn more about herself. In the spring of her sophomore year, she worked with Maureen Leonard at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center in Alessio Fasano’s laboratory, examining the blood of pediatric patients with an autoimmune condition called celiac disease. With when she was younger.
Her diagnosis led to an early interest in science and medicine. Today, she works to learn more about celiac disease, its causes, and the effects it can have on individuals, so that future patients can be treated effectively or the disease can be completely prevented.
From her research experience, which includes publishing her work as the first author in the journal Current Research in Microbial Sciences, Mehrotra has learned that in presenting her findings, believing in her work is half the battle, especially when challenging honest scientific beliefs. “At the end of the day, you know, your data is your data. And to present it with conviction and confidence is one thing that I have learned how to balance. While I acknowledge that various aspects of the work have yet to be understood or certified, I try to do so, ”she says.
Mehrotra also serves as a member of the board of directors of Boston Children’s Hospital Celiac Kids Connection, where she works to create a safe space for children with celiac. She understands for herself that physical and emotional toll can lead to celiac disease and gives her the opportunity to learn more about how to support people and how to navigate these challenges. For example, she initially recognized the association of celiac food insecurity, as celiac is treated with a gluten-free diet. One of her most complete projects, funded by the PKG Center at MIT, is helping to reduce gluten-free food insecurity caused by an epidemic, working with a team of children to research and reduce these food access issues.
“It simply came to our notice then. If I don’t think about all the different aspects of an area, how can I have a big impact on that area? ” She asks.
In her classes, Mehrotra has also been drawn to complex public health topics with multiple perspectives, developing an anthropological background through her HASS course (for which she was nicknamed the Berthard Scholar) and an entrepreneurial framework by participating in the MIT Sandbox. In January 2020, she took HST.434 (Evolution of an Epidemic), traveled to South Africa to study the evolution of the HIV / AIDS epidemic in the area. For Mehrotra, the experience was eye-opening; Social, political, biological – she saw various factors first hand.
In June of last year, Mehrotra participated in the MIT Washington Summer Internship Program, where she worked for Gryphon Scientific, studying data to see how pandemics emerge and develop at the biological level and what can be done at the policy level to prevent them. This experience enabled Mehrotra to see how different players could influence a single issue.
She says, “Social processes involving science and medicine are really important for me to continue my studies.
On campus, Mehrotra works in her hostel, in Christ Hall, and also as a co-star. In her first year, she joined dynaMIT, a STEM outreach program for middle school students in Boston through which she taught biology on ways to make it more interesting and accessible. As co-chair of the Biology Undergraduate Student Association, she has found ways to bring MIT biology students together and to fund on-campus activities as a board member of the Harvard-MIT Cooperative. Mehrotra taught chemistry and biology to students in Wales through the Global Teaching Lab program, and was a teaching assistant for Biology Lab Courses 7.002 (Fundamentals of Experimental Molecular Biology) and 7.012 (Introduction to Biology). While she understands that not all students are eager to take the required classes like 7.012, Mehrotra is happy to help engage in content in meaningful ways.
She says, “I don’t see any better way to spread knowledge than to spread it to other people.
Mehrotra is a member of MIT’s women’s lightweight crew team. As a Coxswain, she drives a boat and guides other rovers both technically and motivationally during practice and race. She says the position helped her develop her teamwork and leadership skills and allowed her to learn something new that she had never done before at MIT. “Learning to be a leader and learning what I can do to support people, even if I don’t know exactly what they are, is a great exercise I have to do for a long time in my career,” she says.
Mehrotra will attend Stanford Medical School this fall, dedicated to the goal of becoming a doctor-scientist, exchanging knowledge, doing science, and interacting with humanitarian issues. Mehrotra wants to work directly with patients and researchers to solve medical problems, find new information and work with people who bring different perspectives. In the long run, she wants to start her own multidisciplinary research practice, where she envisions being able to see and treat patients a few days a week, as well as running a laboratory with a variety of researchers, such as technical and social scientists.
Currently, she is enjoying her last few months at MIT. “It simply came to our notice then. It’s a shame I have to graduate now because there’s so much more to do! ” She says.