SMC alumni awarded grant for medical research at Yale

Responding to emergencies involving stabbings and shootings used to be part of SMC alumnus Carlos Peinado’s daily routine. But now Peinado’s days revolve around the latest advances in cancer research. Peinado, 26, received a grant to conduct medical research in the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program at Yale University. This was made possible by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the most prestigious medical research institutions in the country.

The program gives 100 eligible undergraduate students the opportunity to do medical research during the summer at an institution of their choice. But the reputation of the institution was not a choice factor for Peinado. “I wanted to go where the scientists really interested me,” he said.

Peinado had attended the University of California, San Diego for four months when he approached Dr. Robert L. Sah, the head of Bio Engineering at UCSD, for research opportunities. Dr. Sah nominated Peinado for the grant after reviewing his credentials.

Peinado stated that he would not have had the opportunity to conduct the medical research if he had not approached Dr. Sah. “The opportunities are there for whoever looks for them,” Peinado said.

Peinado is interested in immunology and cancer. He studied regulatory T-cells in melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer. Dr. Jack Bui, assistant professor of Pathology at UCSD, recommended Peinado to go to Yale and work under the supervision of Dr. Susan Kaech, professor in the department of immunobiology at Yale Medical School. Dr. Kaech is also the HHMI Early Career Scientist and Principle Investigator.

Peinado, who is from Los Angeles, is of Guatemalan extraction. He moved with his family to Guatemala when he was six years old. He returned to Los Angeles at 15 and attended South Gate High School. Peinado stated that being the oldest in his family was tough. He admitted being lost and not having much guidance.

After High School, Peinado worked as an Emergency Medical Technician and later on developed an interest in medicine. In 2006, Peinado enrolled at SMC and majored in Physiology.

Peinado would like to see more SMC students conduct medical research. “My whole point is to try and get people there at SMC to start doing research. It’s possible to do research while at SMC and extremely important if you want to go into the sciences,” Peinado said.

Among the people who contributed to his success, Peinado credits his former SMC professor of biochemistry, Dr. Deborah Schwyter. “He showed a lot of initiative taking responsibility for finding those internships,” Dr. Schwyter said.

Peinado is graduating from UCSD this spring with a combined degree in biochemistry and Cell Biology. Dr. Kaech was pleased with Peinado’s work, and invited him back to Yale this coming summer.

As for the future, Carlos will be applying for an MD and PHD program, which will account for another eight years. It is worth it, according to Peinado. “The advantage is that you can treat patients and do research.”