Mason Student Conducts Medical Research in Mexico City

Posted: August 25, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 23, 2010 at 6:13 pm

By Ethan Vaughan

Most college students spend their summer hitting the beach, relaxing by the pool or staying up late with friends.

Daniel Pinto, a senior biology major, is not one of these students.

Instead, Pinto used his summer break to conduct medical research at the National Institute for Respiratory Diseases (known by its Spanish-language acronym INER) in Mexico City, Mexico. To his knowledge, he was the first Mason student to work with the Institute.

“I was looking for opportunities to check out the medical field,” says Pinto, who first learned about INER while shadowing a doctor in December 2009. “I was talking to a doctor about the research skills and experience required to apply to medical school. He mentioned Mexico, which has great research programs.”

Pinto contacted Maria Inez Vargas-Rojas, an immunology specialist working with INER, who invited him to come and work with her in Mexico City.

After a semester of careful planning, Pinto departed in for Mexico in early July. He began his work later that month and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of tasks that were assigned to him.

“I was involved in a lab studying how white blood cells, which function as auto-immune cells, respond to COPD,” says Pinto.

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a respiratory/pulmonary ailment that impairs oxygen circulation in the blood and makes breathing difficult.

“We were looking at the genetic susceptibility of certain ethnicities,” he adds.

Pinto spent most of his time in the laboratory learning how to isolate red and white blood cells and blood platelets. He also investigated what effects the introduction of certain biological elements would have on particular patients.

Pinto praises Mason for facilitating the experience.

“I worked with Dr. Charles Madden of the biology department, and he made sure I would get academic credit for the work,” says Pinto. “I couldn’t have done it without him. He helped me structure the experience, since there was no preexisting program and I was the first one to go to INER. We basically created a class.”

The time he spent in Mexico, he says, was very rewarding.

“It’s hard to single out one thing that was especially eye-opening,” Pinto says. “Every single thing complemented something else. I found it rewarding that I was able not only to work in one lab but to observe things in others, to see more than one side. It gave me a better vision of what I’m doing. It made me want to be a doctor even more.”

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