Pinnell Center Mentored Research Fellowship Program

10 Weeks, and Research Gets Under Your Skin

Two undergraduates develop unexpected interest in skin research through a summer research program at Duke.

Alex Guevara faced a steep learning curve last May when it came to independently conducting assays to determine how much wasp venom was needed to inhibit the growth of common skin bacteria such as e-coli.

“I had the pipetting experience from previous summer internships, so filling the 96 well trays wasn’t the problem,” says Guevara, a sophomore at Duke majoring in biophysics. “But I didn’t realize how complicated the math would be to calculate all the concentrations.”

Thanks to intense mentoring in the lab of Soman Abraham, PhD, professor of Pathology, Guevara successfully scaled that learning curve. Ten weeks later, on July 28, he stood proudly in front of a poster at the Duke Pinnell Center Research Symposium, explaining the results of his summer’s work.

Guevara was one of two undergraduate students participating in this year’s Pinnell Center Undergraduate Summer Mentored Research Fellowship program. Heather Larson, a Fayetteville State University student, was also part of the program.

Working in the lab of Amanda MacLeod, MD, assistant professor of dermatology, Larson grew cell cultures and used immunofluorescence staining to study how the skin repairs itself after being damaged by ultraviolet light. Larson also presented a poster at the July 28 research symposium, and will present again in November during the 2015 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Seattle, Washington.

The Duke Pinnell Center for Investigative Dermatology launched in 2014 with the vision of expanding the workforce committed to improving the health of patients with skin disease through basic, translational, and clinical research programs.

“The summer mentored research program for undergraduates is a key element of our long-term strategy,” says Russell Hall, director of the Pinnell Center.  “We can offer students the chance to understand the challenges of research and appreciate the rewards of presenting their data to excited colleagues.”

The program offers a $4,000 stipend, housing on campus, and additional funds for the mentor’s laboratory to support research. Rising sophomores through seniors from any university in the U.S. may participate.

Larson said she loved being in the lab from nine to five (and sometimes longer). But the highlight of the summer was the chance to mingle with other researchers.

“We made connections with professionals and peers, and we attended weekly seminars where faculty discussed their life experiences and the road that led them to science,” she said. “It was exciting to build relationships while also learning about the research.”

MacLeod, who mentored Larson, said it is wonderful to see the learning that can happen during such an intense internship.

“It is wonderful to observe a student grow and mature scientifically and personally in just 10 weeks,” she says. “I am looking forward to seeing where the students we mentor will go, and where the science will take them.”

Guevara admits that the most surprising part of the summer was how the research got under his skin (so to speak).

“I initially was drawn to the program because it was translational – working on something that I could see being used in medicine in the near future,” he said. “I was not expecting that I would get so excited about immunology and pathology. It was really nice to be the expert on my own project as I was surrounded by folks who are experts in their own field.”


The Duke Pinnell Center is offering mentored research opportunities for undergraduates and medical students from Duke University and other institutions for the summer of 2016 and the 2016-2017 academic year.

This program is designed to build a diverse and inclusive community of individuals with interest in biomedical research investigating skin biology and skin diseases. The Duke Pinnell Center defines diversity in the biomedical research community broadly including but not limited to racial, ethnic, disadvantaged backgrounds, disabilities and LGBT. We believe that through an increasingly diverse biomedical research community we will broaden the breadth and depth of research and patient care to the benefit of society.   Rising second and third year undergraduates and rising 3rd year medical students interested in research careers in biomedical research, skin biology and skin diseases are invited to apply.   Mentors for this program will include members of the Duke Pinnell Center. This community of researchers involves members from the Departments of Dermatology, Medicine, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Surgery, Pathology, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Immunology, Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering.   Research activities include basic and translational projects and are located on the Duke Medical Center Campus.

The goals of the Duke Pinnell Center Mentored Research Program are:

  • Develop the interest of highly motivated undergraduates and medical students with an interest in biomedical research to the study of skin biology and skin diseases
  • Increase the diversity and inclusiveness of the research community that is focused on skin biology and skin diseases

Duke Pinnell Center undergraduate research fellows will have 10 week paid summer research fellowships (May 31 to August 6, 2016) in the laboratories of high quality experienced researchers with interest in skin biology and disease.   They will be able to participate in the Duke Pinnell Center seminar series as well as in other activities of Duke summer programs for undergraduates interested in biomedical research and medicine (Duke Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, Duke BioCoRE program, Duke Summer Research Opportunity Program).   Duke undergraduate’s research fellows will have the opportunity to continue their research during the school year and re-apply for a second summer fellowship. Fellowship support for undergraduate research fellows will include up to $600 support for travel, room on Duke Campus and $4,000 stipend. Additional support of up to $1,500 is provided to the mentor’s laboratory to support the proposed research.

Further application details can be found by clicking on this pdf.
Deadline to apply for this opportunity is January 15, 2016.

Duke Pinnell Center mentored research fellowships for 3rd year Duke medical students will provide support for a 9 month research fellowship with a stipend of $4,000.  Support will also be available for research fellows to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology to present their work.   Students will participate in the educational activities of the Pinnell Center including research seminars, work in progress seminars and clinical conferences. 3rd year Duke medical students must identify a mentor and project as part of the application process. Additional support of up to $3,000 will be provided to the mentor’s laboratory to support the proposed research.

Further application details can be found by clicking on this pdf.
Application Deadline will be posted here.