Summer Centered: Jocelyn Gao '26 Explores Diabetes and Clinical Research
As an intern at a diabetes center affiliated with Harvard University, Gao is part of a research study seeking to understand why cardiovascular and kidney issues often occur together in people with Type 1 diabetes.
Jocelyn Gao ’26 is spending her summer at a world-renowned diabetes research center, contributing to the work of leading investigators as she explores her interest in clinical research.
At the Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, Gao is part of a research study seeking to understand why cardiovascular and kidney issues often occur together in people with Type 1 diabetes. As someone with a family history of diabetes, the work carries added significance for Gao. Through her past work as a medical assistant in a cardiology office, she’s also seen firsthand the harmful effects that cardiovascular disease can have on a person’s life, making the study particularly meaningful, she said.
“Finding out the link between these two [diseases] is a stepping stone for scientists to find new ways to prevent these life-threatening conditions in people with Type 1 diabetes,” Gao said.
Throughout her internship, which is funded by the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, Gao will be working with Harvard Professor of Medicine Alessandro Doria, the principal investigator on the study. She will be focused on recruiting patients to join the study, taking part in study visits, processing blood samples, and carrying out initial analysis of data from lab results in the study’s database. Over the course of the internship, Gao will shadow several doctors in different specialties, developing a better sense of the daily work of clinical research as she contemplates the ultimate direction of her medical career. She is deciding between majoring in chemistry or biology—and whether she’ll head toward clinical practice or clinical research down the line.
“The people I work with are extremely inspiring, and it has been really helpful to hear about their stories and how they chose diabetes research as a career,” Gao said.
Later this summer, Gao will deliver a presentation for her student colleagues and Joslin research staff, capping an internship in which she’s receiving her first direct laboratory experience and developing a deeper understanding of diabetes and its treatment. Even though she’s still in the early stages, Gao said she’s learning how to protect confidential medical information, how to be safe and sanitary with biological material in the lab, and how to interact with patients.
Working with patients has been the highlight of the internship, said Gao, whose responsibilities include informing study participants about the associated risks and purpose behind each of the tests they take, including MRI of the heart and kidneys, a coronary artery calcium exam, and electrocardiograms. Study visits can last for hours, giving Gao plenty of time to get to know participants and better understand their experience of living with heart and kidney problems. Through these conversations, she’s also been able to reflect on her grandmother’s life with diabetes.
“Meeting these patients during study visits serves as a constant reminder for me about the significance of advancing research in diabetes, and I constantly feel motivated to work hard during my internship to help the research team in any way possible,” Gao said.