Raheem Khadour '25, center left, with Jackson Laboratory (JAX) principal investigator Nadia R... Raheem Khadour '25, center left, with Jackson Laboratory (JAX) principal investigator Nadia Rosenthal and postdoctoral associate John Bachman, and Adel Misherghi '23, right, are authors on two publications in The Journal of Immunology related to their work at JAX.

The papers outline the development of genetically engineered mice created to study type 1 diabetes using human genes and the development of mouse models for the study of myocarditis, the inflammation and failure of heart tissue caused by cancer immunotherapy. These improved mouse models, with decreased mortality and improved functionality, will provide researchers with more efficient methods for the diagnosis and treatment of these immunodeficiencies.

Misherghi and Khadour have both worked to pursue careers in medicine and molecular genetics while students at College of the Atlantic. This intention eventually led them to complete Academic Fellowships in Biomedical Research with The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution based just down the road from COA in Bar Harbor. These fellowships included both part-time academic year work and a full-time summer internship.

The Academic Fellowship program, which started in 2017, allows COA students to do hands-on work with professional, full-time researchers every year. The program, which is an extension of the funding COA receives through the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), gave both Mishergi and Khadour opportunities to learn skills otherwise inaccessible to them as undergraduates.

The cover of The Journal of Immunology issue featuring research imagery from Jackson Laboratory&#... The cover of The Journal of Immunology issue featuring research imagery from Jackson Laboratory's Serreze and Rosenthal labs, where Adel Misherghi '23 and Raheem Khadour '25 are part of cutting-edge genetics research teams.

“Having undergraduate students work with a world-class institution like JAX, and with scientists on the cutting edge of genetic research, is an incredible opportunity, and one that truly differentiates College of the Atlantic from other colleges,” said COA president Dr. Darron Collins ’92.

Misherghi, who completed his Academic Fellowship with JAX in 2023, is a contributor on both papers, including being second author on one. These publications are the result of both Misherghi’s work with JAX and his COA senior project, which he completed in June 2023.

Misherghi’s interest in biomedical studies at COA was piqued by his experience in the Molecular Genetics Workshop, a one-week workshop taught at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory during spring break which is also funded by the INBRE grant. He then continued to take classes, like Genetics with Helen Hess, that solidified his intention to seek out experience in molecular lab work.

Misherghi began work in JAX’s Serreze Lab during the summer before his fourth year at COA, where he built upon existing work developing diabetes mouse models and investigating the inflammatory effects of certain treatments. With the help of mentors that Misherghi worked with at JAX, he said, he was able to do extensive work and research that informed his senior project, a detailed paper that discussed in full some of the findings in the recent publications and others that have yet to be published.

“I would have not been able to do a single percent of what I was able to do without their help,” Misherghi noted about his relationship with mentors in the Serreze Lab.

Khadour, who intends to become a heart surgeon, has dedicated most of his course load at COA to classes in genetics, biology, and chemistry. But given that the majority of COA’s internal research opportunities deal predominantly with marine biology and field ecology, he was encouraged to reach outside COA for the additional practical experience that makes the human ecology degree unique.

Khadour ended up working within JAX at the Rosenthal Lab, which uses mouse models and genetics to explore the development, regeneration, and failure of heart and skeletal muscle. It was here, under the mentorship of the lab’s principal investigator Nadia Rosenthal (a trustee of the college) and postdoctoral associate John Bachman, that Khadour learned to do echocardiography on mice, the skill that earned him his credit in the most recent of the two publications.

“The program at JAX was really the peak of research experience for me. I was able to do it full time over the summer, and I had the mentorship of John [Bachman], who dedicated a lot of his time to teaching me wet lab skills like PCR and histology,” Khadour said, adding that Bachman also spent hours with him going through dense research material and academic papers. “I was so lucky to be able to work in a lab where I can do actual research, and where someone is willing to dedicate so much time to teaching,” he said.

Raheem Khadour '25, center with green jacket, at the Bioscience Association of Maine student ... Raheem Khadour '25, center with green jacket, at the Bioscience Association of Maine student poster showcase in Portland. Khadour took the first place prize at the competition, besting students from other Maine colleges including Colby, Bowdoin, and University of Maine. His poster detailed his molecular genetics research work with Jackson Laboratory.

The publications, a rare achievement for two undergraduates, underscore the importance of giving students in higher education real-world experience with research and collaboration. Khadour, who shared his work with JAX at a poster competition, won first place for his presentation.

COA continues to make these kinds of opportunities a priority for its students. Whether it be through internships, independent studies, expeditionary courses, work-study, or summer research, students at COA are encouraged to reach outside of the classroom and pursue their passions from a new direction.

“Because we’re a small school, a student here gets a lot of focus. I was lucky to have Chris Petersen, John Anderson, Helen Hess, and Reuben Hudson, all mentors trying to give me research experience and provide me with connections outside of COA. I think this direct mentorship is the thing that many premed students and biomedical students don’t get at other institutions because they’re competing with thousands of other students for the time of just a few faculty,” Khadour noted.

Chris Petersen, COA Emily and Mitchell Rales Chair in Ecology, has managed the INBRE grant that has provided academic-year and summer fellowships with funding for around 20 years. He has seen students go on to complete medical degrees, doctorates, nursing degrees, run labs, and work in public health. He believes that the opportunity to get experience in the workplace as an undergraduate gives students a more complete understanding of what they want to pursue, and a perspective that is invaluable in higher education and the world of work.

“Post-graduate programs are looking for students that have had diverse experiences, and not just followed the cookie cutter choices of a pre-med or pre-vet program,” Petersen noted. “Our students have stories to tell, and can give a narrative of what they have done, why they have done it, and why it was important to them. Over time, I think programs have become much more interested in finding these kinds of students, and our students fit this profile quite well.”

Misherghi, who began work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Whitehead Institute after graduating from COA in 2023, said that his experience at JAX and the learning he was able to demonstrate through his independent work was invaluable to his career interests.

“Having the Jackson Laboratory there is an incredible opportunity for COA. It really is a world-renowned lab, and it is no joke to be able to have COA students working with the scientists there,” Misherghi said.

Khadour, who will return for his final year at COA in the fall of 2024, plans on creating a guide to the curriculum for COA pre-med students as a part of his senior project, in addition to continuing his research with the Rosenthal Lab.

COA is a member of the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), a collaborative network of Maine educational and research institutions led by the MDI Biological Laboratory and sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. Funding from the INBRE grants allows COA students to receive a stipend while they complete Academic Fellowships at JAX.