Aspiring physician explores the many levels of human health

It was her childhood peanut allergy that first sparked senior Ayesha Ng’s fascination with the human body. “To see this severe reaction happen to my body and not know what was happening — that made me a lot more curious about biology and living systems,” Ng says.

She didn’t exactly plan it this way. But in her three and a half years at MIT, Ng, a biology and cognitive and brain sciences double major from the Los Angeles, California area, has conducted research and taken classes examining just about every level of human health — from cellular to societal.

Most recently, her passion for medicine and health equity led her to the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where, this summer, she worked to develop guidelines for addressing health disparities on state and local health jurisdictions’ Covid-19 data dashboards. Now, as an aspiring physician amidst the medical school application process, Ng has a sense of how microbiological, physiological, and social systems interact to affect a person’s health.

Starting small

Throughout her entire first year at MIT, Ng studied the biology of health at a cellular level. Specifically, she researched the effects of fasting and aging on regeneration of intestinal stem cells, which are located in the human intestinal crypts and continuously self-divide and reproduce. Understanding these metabolic mechanisms is crucial, as their deregulation can lead to age-associated diseases such as cancer.

“That experience allowed me to broaden my technical skills, just getting used to so many different types of molecular biological techniques right away, which I really appreciated,” Ng says of her time at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Professor David Sabatini’s lab.

“After some time, I realized that I also wanted to also study sciences at a broader, more macro level, instead of only the microbiology and molecular biology that we were studying in Course 7,” Ng says of her biology major.

In addition to studying the biology of cancer, Ng had developed a curiosity about the human brain and how it functions. “I was really interested in that, because my grandpa has dementia,” Ng says.

Seeing her grandfather’s cognitive decline, she was inspired to become involved in MIT BrainTrust, a student organization that offers a social support network for individuals from around the Boston, Massachusetts area who have brain injuries. “We have these meetings, in which I serve as one of only one or two students there to facilitate a safe space where we can have all these individuals with brain injury gather,” Ng says of the peer-support aspect of the program. “They can really share their mutual challenges and experiences.”

Investigating the brain

To pursue her interest in brain research and the societal impact of brain injuries, Ng traveled to the University of Hong Kong the summer after her first year as an…

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