By: Nonie Arora

Sonya Jooma, Trinity '14, provided by Steve Yozwiak

Rising Trinity Junior Sonya Jooma is in Phoenix, Arizona this summer working at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) as an intern in the TGen-Duke Biomedical Futures Program. This is the first year TGen and Duke have partnered to offer a funded biomedical research internship exclusively for Duke students. Jooma and a second Duke undergrad, Geoff Houtz, are the first two students to participate in this pilot program.

The TGen-Duke Biomedical Futures Program joins the growing list of Duke programs for students excited about genomics, such as the Genome FOCUS program and the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy Summer Fellowship. In fact, the Genome FOCUS spurred Jooma’s enthusiasm for genomics research. Last year, she worked in the John Willis lab researching plant genetics as part of the Howard Hughes Research Fellows Program.

Her project at TGen, in the lab of Dr. Lisa Baumbach-Reardon, centers on the genetic basis of Infantile Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This disease causes muscle weakness and abnormality at birth. Afflicted children often die before their second birthday. According to Jooma, there are cases of this disease for which the genetic basis is unknown. As part of her lab’s exome sequencing project, they hope to identify mutations involved in the disease.

Jooma says her TGen experience has been great so far. She finds it similar to working in a research lab at Duke because of the similar lab hierarchy. However, she appreciates that TGen has overarching specific goals that focus on translating discoveries to clinical diagnostics and therapies. Jooma also looks forward to attending professional development workshops and presenting her work at TGen’s annual intern research symposium in July.

Ultimately, Jooma’s experience at TGen will be one of many exciting research projects: she hopes to pursue a career in biology research.