Logo for University of Iowa Health Care This logo represents the University of Iowa Health Care

Lauren Boland spent 12 weeks in clinical rotations before transitioning to graduate course work and research for her PhD. Those brief, early clinical experiences allowed in the New Horizons curriculum have helped drive her work in the lab.

“In the middle of treating patients, you can’t always think about how to improve processes because you have to act in the moment,” she says. “In my PhD training, I can reflect on how to improve things I saw in the patient care setting.”

Lauren Boland portrait

Soon after her second-year rotations, Boland returned to Michigan to assist her mother, who was diagnosed with leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant.

“Seeing what she had to go through to recover has been a motivator,” Boland says. “Coming into this lab, I was focusing on applications of cell therapy within the clinical environment. Now my clinical interests are specific to the field of hematology and oncology.”

Boland, whose undergraduate work emphasized photography and art history, has developed an interest in mesenchymal stem cells and their influence on immune system response to disease—such as diabetes and its complications—or tissue damage from interventions like chemotherapy. She is first author on a paper in Molecular Therapy, “IFN-y and TNF-a Pre-licensing Protects Mesenchymal Stromal Cells from the Pro-Inflammatory Effects of Palmitate.”

She anticipates at least a couple more years in the lab of James Ankrum, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center. After completing the PhD, she returns to the MD portion of her studies.

“Being an engineer is about solving problems, and in a lot of ways it’s a perfect complement to what I had been doing for years as an artist: giving a creative interpretation of a problem,” she says. “In an engineering-focused lab, we’re doing the same thing by coming up with new techniques, new devices, and new methodologies to solve problems.”