Undergraduate Research Program

Daniel Chen

Major:Microbiology and Informatics
Mentor: Dr. James Heath, President and Professor at ISB, Distinguished Affiliate Professor at UW Bioengineering; Dr. Yapeng Su, Postdoctoral Fellow at Fred Hutch


Current research project: Integrated Multi-Omic Spatial Characterization of Therapeutic T-cell Dysfunction



Daniel Chen is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Microbiology and Informatics. He began research in the Heath lab at ISB the summer of 2019 investigating melanoma subpopulations utilizing single-cell technologies, such as scRNA-seq and scATAC-seq. Currently, he uses the single-cell multi-omic paradigm to analyze COVID-19 peripheral blood mononuclear cells to identify the disease state effects of SARS-CoV-2 on patient immune systems. Recently, he has also joined the Greenberg and Gottardo labs at Fred Hutch investigating the pancreatic cancer tumor microenvironment through multi-omic measurements of single cells in a spatial context. After his undergraduate studies, Daniel intends to pursue an MD-PhD centered on applying biomedical informatic techniques onto human medical challenges. Outside of class and research he enjoys hiking in nature preserves, crocheting amigurumi animals, and playing the piano.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
My work entails describing how a person’s immune system functions to eradicate cancer or infections and what causes it to fail. This involves taking a person’s blood then taking many different types of biological measurements from each immune cell in their blood draw. Then I look for global similarities and differences between these measurements across all the cells and make 2D scatterplots to visualize these patterns. This scatterplot allows me to observe groups of similar cells that could represent specific subtypes of immune cells critical for immunity.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I first got involved in research in the August before my freshman year at the Mougous lab investigating the toxin secretion system of Mycobacterium abscessus as a surrogate model for Mycobacterium tuberculosis. I got involved by contacting the postdoctoral fellow via a posting from the URP research database and was interested in getting into research because I had a previous research experience in my pre-collegiate schooling that inspired me to deeply characterize different forms of life, and my interest in immunology led me to a microbiology lab.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Research is not a linear process, finding mentors and labs that capture your interest is difficult so don’t be afraid to try, try, and try again. Even once you’ve joined a lab you can always switch to another lab of your interest, and you’ll even have the experience to carry out independent work in that new lab. When a professor doesn’t reply don’t be afraid to reach out again or reach out to other members of their lab! The URP is also a great resource to ask for help to connect with resources or ask fellow students or professors if they know labs or PIs (principal investigators) that research the topic of your interest. You can explore different topics to find what you might enjoy analyzing via survey classes or just scrolling through different lab pages (you can just search a general topic and UW lab or you can start by looking at graduate programs/undergraduate majors and scrolling through the associated labs). When you’re conducting research always try to understand what you are doing, as in what is your role in the larger scheme of things (this helps you ground yourself in the stakes of your research and figure out whether you enjoy your environment). Always feel free to reach out to fellow undergraduate researchers for support and make sure you don’t feel taken advantage of by your research lab (if you do be sure to evaluate whether this is an environment that you feel supports you and is conductive to a positive research experience). Last of all, always ask for help and communicate whenever you feel any need as people will always support you!