Visitor of the Week: Claire Olingy

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Meet Claire Olingy of La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI). Claire is a postdoctoral fellow in Catherine “Lynn” Hedrick’s lab in the Division of Inflammation Biology. She’s participating in her first course at CSHL: Single Cell Analysis

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in the role myeloid immune cells play in anti-tumor immunity during cancer progression and metastasis. I’m currently working to understand whether we can leverage these cells as early diagnostics and to enhance patient responses to immunotherapies.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease, yet there is still so much we don’t understand about this diverse group of diseases. During my PhD in biomedical engineering, I became increasingly interested in the role that the immune system plays in health and disease. Our immune systems are really involved in everything! I closely followed the success stories of cancer immunotherapies and recognized the immense potential the field holds, both for treating cancer and many other diseases. This inspired me to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the lab of Lynn Hedrick, who is a leader in myeloid cell biology. LJI is a great place to learn about and conduct immunology research because you are surrounded by experts and have access to the resources necessary to study important questions in immunology.

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I have always loved math and knew I wanted to study engineering in college. However while I was in high school and my grandfather was diagnosed with colon cancer, I realized I also wanted to work in a field where I could have an impact on human health. I majored in biomedical engineering at my grandfather’s alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. I became involved in undergraduate research and recognized that research would give me the opportunity to better understand and contribute to unanswered questions in biology and medicine.

Was there something specific about the Single Cell Analysis course that drew you to apply?
I applied to the Single Cell Analysis course because of the diversity of techniques the course offered to study cells at the single cell level, including bioinformatics tools to analyze single cell data. Some of these techniques can be intimidating for a first-timer like myself so I was looking for exposure, as well as how to appropriately design experiments in my research. Initially, I was most interested in the single cell sequencing approaches this course covers, but many of the skills I’ve so far learned in the first week could be applied to my research. 

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
The immune system is extremely heterogeneous so that it can respond to the wide range of pathogens and diseases our bodies face. The techniques I’ve learned in this course will enable me to study this diversity during the progression of cancer, which is really only possible with single cell approaches. And I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned with my labmates and collaborators at my home institution.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
The instructors did a great job designing this course so that it highlights a lot of exciting technologies that are being used in a wide range of biological fields. My key takeaway is that it can be very valuable to look to other fields for inspiration that can be applied to my own work. I’ve also learned that understanding how new technologies work before applying them to my research is critical when it comes to designing experiments that will actually answer the scientific questions I’m interested in.
If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I think it’s important to come to this course with a willingness to learn new techniques outside your immediate field and to consider how you may be able to expand your own research. Many of my peers (including myself) came primarily to learn about a specific technique, but to me, one of the most valuable takeaways is the new ideas we’re bringing back to our home institution. Also, to ensure you get the most out of this course, spend time before the course learning some basic programming! 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I have most enjoyed getting to know a really diverse group of scientists who are at different stages in their scientific journey, studying different fields, and from all over the world. Everyone is here to learn and the beautiful CSHL environment makes it a really enjoyable experience!

Claire received a fellowship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Claire, thank you to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Claire for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.