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20 in Their 20s: Diego Perez

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A researcher seeks to advance regenerative medicine

After graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill in 2022 with a degree in integrative neuroscience, Diego Perez landed a spot in the Harvard Stem Cell Institute’s Camargo Lab, which focuses on adult stem cell biology, organ size regulation, and cancer.

As a research assistant, one of the main things he’s working on is lineage tracing, which allows researchers to follow individual cells to better understand biological processes. He’s been using cellular barcoding, a technique that allows researchers to label and track individual cells, to study blood development in cells.

“A lot of the research I’ve done here has informed my next steps,” says Perez, who is applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs. “I really fell in love with all the lineage-tracing work.”

Using Philosophy in Science

Perez says conducting research with Ipsita Banerjee, Ph.D., chair of the Fordham chemistry department, and publishing their work in academic journals, set him up well for his current role at Harvard. One of his Fordham projects involved the use of 3D bioprinting to try to inspire nerve growth and help people with spinal cord injuries.

He says that he was always interested in neuroscience, even when he was a student in high school in Florida, which is part of why he chose Fordham. “I went to a couple of summer camps that really solidified that, and now I think I’m going into anti-aging and longevity research—I think that’s going to be one of my passions as I move through.”

Perez also feels he benefited from the interdisciplinary training he received at Fordham, where he minored in both biochemistry and philosophy.

“I took a scientific realism course, and now, when I’m talking to my advisor here, we’ll ask questions like, ‘Is this picture of what we’re seeing true? Is it useful? Is it just a data error?’ All of this, at the end of the day, is philosophy,” he says with a laugh. “I’m doing that philosophy, I’m doing the computational work, and it’s all such a blend.”

From Swimming to Tightrope Walking

At Fordham, Perez also was a Division I athlete on the diving team, where he took home first place in the one-meter dive his senior year. One of his standout memories from Fordham was a summer training trip to China with his diving coach.

“It was one of the greatest experiences I got to have at Fordham,” he says. “I got to train with the Olympic national team there.”

He says he still draws on his athletic training, even if he’s no longer competing.

“Health and fitness is pivotal for my mental work,” he says. “I’m still trying to incorporate a lot of acrobatics. I’ve taken up tightrope walking, and we also do highlining with a harness. I find stuff like that to be essential to keep me sane.”

Perez says that after his graduate programs are finished, he wants to continue working in research.

“I want to become head of my own lab, doing some sort of clinical research, maybe working with a biotech startup that can help me move forward with this field of regenerative research,” he says.

Read more “20 in Their 20s” profiles.

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