Educational program celebrates 20 years, 1,000 Hoosier kids

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of Molecular Medicine in Action (MMIA), a two-day learning program for high school students in Indiana, hosted by Indiana University School of Medicine and the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research. The program is supported by the Lilly Endowment through Riley Children’s Foundation.

“MMIA provides accessibility to hands-on learning for students who are interested in science,” said Amelia Linnemann, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the program. “Our goal is to demonstrate that it’s not only possible, but incredibly rewarding, to pursue a career in research. Ultimately, we hope to inspire the next generation of diverse and passionate scientists.”

Twenty years after its inception, MMIA has done just that. Approximately 1,000 Hoosier kids from hundreds of rural and urban Indiana schools have participated in the program—and many have gone on to forge careers in science. In fact, a few MMIA alumni now work as scientists at IU School of Medicine—like Pankita Pandya, PhD, who attended the event when she was a junior at Arsenal Technical High School back in 2005.

Now an assistant research professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a cancer researcher at the Wells Center, Pandya said that MMIA was one of her earliest experiences that inspired her to pursue a career in science.

“My experience at MMIA gave me the opportunity to get a glimpse at the interesting research happening right here at IU School of Medicine,” said Pandya. “I realized that clinical medicine and biological science went hand-in-hand, and I really enjoyed the translational aspect that was highlighted by workshops in the program.”

A student works in a lab at the Wells Center during the Molecular Medicine in Action program.

Those observations had a lasting impact, as she now works on the Pediatric Precision Genomics team with some of the most renowned experts nationwide. Pandya, who hosted the precision genomics workstation with her colleagues at this year’s event, said that she hopes to pay it forward by sharing her career journey and offering mentorship to MMIA participants.

“Programs like MMIA really are the foundation for students to gain insight on what is possible through careers in science,” Pandya said. “I was in the same place as these students not too long ago, and now that I’m a professional, my goal is to make the next generation of young scientists as excited as I was when I completed the program.”

This year’s event kicked off with an afternoon at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday, March 3. There, IU professionals told tales from their journey to a career in research and discussed hot topics in medical science, such as precision medicine and genetic counseling.

On Monday, March 4, the students spent the day learning from nationally recognized experts and performing hands-on activities in laboratories at the Wells Center. In addition to the precision genomics modules, participants learned about cytogenetics, immunology and—new this year—infectious disease.

As one of the nation’s top pediatric research centers, the center’s state-of-the-art laboratories and cutting-edge technology offer a rare, immersive learning experience for the budding scientists. And perhaps, at least for a few students, a glimpse into their professional futures.

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