These days, the name “Pfizer” brings to mind images of syringes and vaccine cards. But the pharmaceutical giant is concerned with far more than COVID-19 — just ask Ben Jakubczak ’23, who will be working remotely for Pfizer this summer. Jakubczak’s position will be as a research assistant, analyzing data on spontaneous blindness in Wistar Han rats in order to aid future toxicology studies.
This specific kind of rat is used frequently in various laboratory tests. In toxicology studies, said Jakubczak, they may be employed to figure out if a certain drug induces blindness. The trouble is that some of the rats are born blind, which would, obviously, impede the progress of a study. “They’re trying to characterize a way to screen the rats for blindness before they start the studies,” Jakubczak explained. His role will be to sift through data in order to weed out the rats that are blind prior to being used.
Hometown: East Lyme, Conn.
High School: East Lyme High School
He will accomplish this using data collected from an ERG device, which records the responses of the rats’ optical neurons to a light source. The quality of a rat’s vision can then be determined based on the strength of this response. “Most of my work is analyzing the spectra produced by the ERG and rating the vision of the individuals,” Jakubczak said. He will also be listening to vocal recordings from the rats to “understand behavioral changes after the rat becomes blind.” They hypothesize that “the blind rats will become more vocal to compensate for their lost vision,” he said.
The internship is remote, though Jakubczak will be going into the lab once or twice a week. But for the most part, he will be sent data to analyze on his computer at home. “It’s a whole long thing getting certified to handle animals, so really, in the lab, I can’t do that much,” he said. “I can help prep, but I can’t really handle the animals … so it’s mostly remote.”
Prior to his position at Pfizer, Jakubczak gained relevant experience conducting research at Hamilton last fall with Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Nikole Bonacorsi ’15. “Basically, we were studying plant spore growth in different mediums … a lot of imaging of the plant spores,” he said. “It actually helped me get this internship because we have to do some imaging with mice and rats.”
Another valuable experience that Jakubczak highlighted was a bioinformatics course last spring. Studying bioinformatics, a field that combines biology and computer science, made him a more qualified and desirable candidate. “I had experience doing more data analysis rather than the actual lab work,” he said. With an increase in remote positions due to the pandemic, Jakubczak said, knowledge of data science has become all the more important.