Fortin twins are scientists becoming doctors

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One of the joys of being a teacher is to see the results students achieve after they leave Mountain Valley High School.

Two MVHS alumnae, twin sisters, are on the path to becoming doctors by being scientists first.

Chelsea Fortin is a senior at Boston University majoring in biology and specializing in cellular and molecular biology as well as genetics. Trisha Fortin, also a senior at B.U., is majoring in neuroscience. Both hope to become doctors. But one will be a medical doctor and the other will earn a doctorate for cancer research.

Rather than sit in class and absorb knowledge from professors and lectures, both young women have chosen to create knowledge on the cutting edge of scientific research.

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Chelsea explained her summer research project, “I tested about 200 proteins and found ones that work on the cell signaling process. When that process is disrupted, it may cause cancer.”

Trisha focused her research on learning and memory.

“My own project involves ten rats,” she described. “We train them and I’ve done some surgery on them. I put opto-genes, which code for a light-sensitive protein, in the brain to shut off certain brain cells. I can shut off some parts of the brain and see how the rat performs.”

Trisha added, “I have to defend my research and I don’t like public speaking.”

But before the young women began their research projects, they had many steps to take to prepare. Along the way, they learned more about themselves and what they want in the future.

Chelsea started her preparation at MVHS in sophomore biology class.

She explained, “My grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. In biology class, we did DNA stuff and replication (how DNA makes copies of itself) and I loved it. I found out I liked science. A, I’m good at this and B, I’m interested in it.”

Then at B.U., Chelsea discovered that she could earn credit for doing research and she started her quest.

She described, “I went out of my comfort zone to email 30 or more professors. I was shy and intimidated about asking to work in their labs.”

Doors opened for her and by junior year she was doing research for credit.

“At first, it was a lot of observational learning,” Chelsea explained. “I learned more hands on by helping other lab mates with their projects. I now work with cell cultures.”

Then she applied for grant through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. “I wrote a grant proposal. It was stressful but a good process. I was awarded a stipend to do research over the summer. That’s when I worked with cell signaling and links to cancer.”

Chelsea continues, “This semester, I’m working part time in research. I clone genes for a partner to use in his mice research.”

Trisha’s path was different and led her to a different conclusion.

In addition to her rat research and working in her lab for 2.5 years, she volunteered at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital.

Trisha described, “This summer I worked at Mass General in the ALS clinic. It was intense because I would shadow doctors or nurses and work with patients. The patients were terminal. But it was cool to work with the doctors.”

ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a degenerative disease where the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord stop working. As the disease progresses, muscles no longer receive signals for movement. Eventually the patient may become paralyzed and die.

Trisha explained, “I learned that I don’t want to do research. I want to become a medical doctor. I would like to specialize in neurology. I like the brain. But I’m open to seeing what’s fun. I hope to work in a place with underserved people.”

Like most college students in their last undergraduate semester, the Fortins need to make plans for their next steps.

Trisha said, “I am looking into a one-year master’s program before going to med school.”

She will hopefully head to the Philadelphia area, but has also applied to programs in Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, Ohio, and New York.

Taking a different path, Chelsea is applying to do cancer research for a year until entering a PhD program.

Chelsea explains, “I hope to help more people with research versus being a medical doctor.”

Her plans include taking advantage of her amazing network in Boston and probably saying in that area.

For the first time since their birth, the Fortin twins are heading to different parts of the country. Wherever they end up, they will certainly be doing service in various medical fields.

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