“For the first time in my life, I realize the work I want to do. I just feel like I was born to be in the lab,” says Ryan Alexander.

The 20-year-old junior from Birmingham, Alabama, says he had the insight this year after participating in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which matches students and faculty in research partnerships.

Alexander works in the lab of Prof. Harvey Lodish at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his project focuses on microRNAs, tiny snippets of genetic material, that control gene expression. The goal is to determine their possible role as therapeutics for obesity and other diseases. “I’m interested in microRNAs because they’ve been considered as therapeutic targets for cancer, heart disease, hepatitis C, and HIV. I’m so happy to be involved; the potential of microRNA research is unfathomable.”

Based on his work, Alexander contributed to a scientific paper recently submitted to the journal Cell Metabolism. He also wrote a scientific review for Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets.

“I never would have been given the opportunity to write my own review just sitting in a classroom,” he says. “The thing I’ll say about UROP is that I’ve just been so motivated to learn.

“I may not have developed my talent nor gone the extra mile if I hadn’t participated in UROP. It’s been the foundation of my experience at MIT. Now, I dream that I’ll contribute to a project in the future that will lead to the development of a new drug that will help millions of people.”