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ASU honors student completes summer biomedical research internship

Alexander Warthen's experience as a Helios Scholar at TGen helped prepare him for med school

Portrait of ASU honors student Alexander Warthen.

Alexander Warther, a senior medical studies major in the ASU College of Health Solutions, plans to pursue a career in medicine.

August 11, 2022

Alexander Warthen, a senior in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University majoring in medical studies, wanted to do undergraduate research on his way to completing his degree and pursuing a spot in medical school.

For eight weeks this summer, as a Helios Scholar at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, he did just that, participating in hands-on biomedical research that will help him beef up his skills and his resume.

Warthen was part of the 2022 class of Helios Scholars at TGen, a paid internship program with TGen, an Arizona-based, nonprofit medical research institute. TGen is part of the City of Hope, a biomedical, treatment and education center focused on basic and clinical research in cancer, diabetes and other chronic, life-threatening diseases.

The Helios Scholars at TGen program is designed for undergraduate, graduate and medical school students and offers a one-of-a-kind summer experience in biomedical research under the guidance of experienced TGen mentors.

Students in the program work along with faculty and staff on research and administrative projects and attend seminars to develop their professional writing, networking and presentation skills.

Warthen said he was especially interested in being a Helios Scholar in order to gain practical experience and skills to help improve his research capabilities.

“TGen does such a great job at giving its interns real projects that have real-world application and potential clinical trials at the conclusion of the projects,” he said.

Warthen’s internship consisted of learning practical lab skills, including pipetting, passing cell lines and using high tech lab equipment. He learned how to interpret results and created a poster presentation based on his work. He also took workshops and seminars in which he learned more about topics such as public health and honed his presentation skills.

“As an aspiring physician and physician-scientist, I know these skills are critical to a successful career,” he said.

Throughout the internship, Warthen worked on the “G-Protein” project, which he said focused on ways “to identify specific genes that promote synergy with the mutant G-alpha-Q protein through screening methods such as CRISPR or inhibitor libraries to evaluate how that impacts cell proliferation of tumor cells.”

Warthen said he joined Barrett Honors College because he thought an honors experience would get him closer to medical school.

“I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine and that I wanted to do research as an undergraduate student,” he said. “Barrett would give me the access to resources and information on how to pursue that.”

He also was attracted to The Human Event, a Barrett Honors College’s signature course for first-year students, as “it would be vastly different from the rest of my course material required by my major and exercise skills I would otherwise lose or never have, such as writing and communication skills,” he said.

Warthen said he used the writing skills he learned from The Human Event to write a personal statement for his Helios Scholar program application.

Warthen plans to complete his bachelor’s degree next spring, and within a year study for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and apply to medical schools.

Helios Scholars at TGen provides an opportunity for students wanting to gain experience while learning to navigate the world of biomedical research, said Kristen Kaus, manager of education and outreach at TGen.

In 2007, TGen received a $380,000 grant from Helios Education Foundation to pilot a paid summer internship program that brought 50 students into TGen laboratories. Following the success of the pilot program, a $6.5 million endowment from Helios Education Foundation in 2008 officially established the Helios Scholars Program at TGen.

Since its inception, Helios Scholars at TGen has trained over 650 students, many of whom have gone on to careers in Arizona’s biomedical research, health care and life science sectors. According to the organization, Helios Scholars have been accepted into top-tier graduate and medical schools, won national awards and scholarships, and authored scientific publications.

“We are proud of the success Helios Scholars at TGen has achieved over the past 16 years,” said Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of the Helios Education Foundation. “As a foundation focused on postsecondary success, it is extremely rewarding to see how this partnership has enriched and benefitted so many students, many of whom are first generation and have gone on to make significant contributions in the biomedical sciences.”

The 2022 program concluded July 29 with a daylong scientific symposium where TGen celebrated the Helios Scholars for their achievements and the students competed for awards recognizing project mastery and presentation skills.

Story by Barrett Honors College student Alex Marie Solomon.

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