August 18, 2020

For some, a summer internship is merely a stepping stone into their career. But for Brendan Creemer, a junior biology major at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, a recent summer internship meant so much more.

Creemer has Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes progressive vision loss and deafness. He spent much of the summer in the laboratory of the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) with neuroscientists Martha Neuringer, PhD and Trevor McGill, PhD, working on a method to improve the ability to use stem cells as a possible treatment for the disorder.

For more than 40 years, Neuringer has taken on high school and college summer interns, but Creemer is the first intern to live with the often-debilitating symptoms of Usher syndrome.

“I’ve been working for many years on retinal diseases and potential therapies without that personal connection,” said Neuringer, a professor in the Division of Neuroscience at the ONPRC and research associate professor of ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “It’s all the more motivation when you know what it’s like for someone facing this.”

Creemer sought out the internship after learning about the research through the OHSU Casey Eye Institute.

“You have that choice to either give up and assume everything is hopeless or choose to take action and not only help yourself but others around you as well,” he wrote of his experience.

Creemer’s summer project focused on a key issue for stem cell therapies: rejection of transplanted cells. When stem cells are delivered as therapies for any health issue, they are perceived as “non-self” by the recipient and attacked by the immune system. Creemer analyzed a possible method to suppress the immune system in rodents, which was then tested to see if it enhanced the survival of retinal stem cell transplants.

“It makes it so much more palpable and real when you see how someone deals with their limitation and overcomes it,” Neuringer said. “It was a perfect match.”

The scientists at the NPRCs across the country are focused on solving myriad genetic disorders. Discover more of our latest research here.

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