Grace Perry in research lab
Feature Stories 2021: Grace Perry ’20: On the forefront of science
Grace Perry ’20: On the forefront of science

Perry joins the world's best researchers at a Harvard Medical School lab

In the labs at Harvard Medical School, Ph.D. students, post-doctoral fellows, and researchers discover breakthroughs that change the way we treat, and even cure, diseases. Grace Perry ’20 is a part of that groundbreaking work, collaborating with researchers at Harvard Medical School to uncover advances in medicine.

Perry is a research assistant in the Toker Laboratory at Harvard Medical School, where a team of researchers investigate the cellular and molecular biology of cancer. The team’s ultimate goal is to study vulnerabilities and identify new targets in cancer cells to help improve current cancer therapies. The lab is run by Alex Toker, professor in the Department of Pathology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, and Chief of the Division of Signal Transduction in Departments of Medicine, Pathology and Cancer Center.

“On any given day in the lab, I perform experiments to see how cells might react to certain drugs. I also collaborate with graduate students on their projects,” Perry said.

Perry is no stranger to research. As a student, she worked with Associate Professor of Biology Erin Bromage monitoring a loggerhead sea turtle’s immune response to bacteriophage therapy to measure the long-term effectiveness of the treatment in a Florida lab. Throughout the school year, she also vaccinated over 400 rainbow trout to measure their immune response after challenged with certain stressors in his laboratory. Perry also traveled with Mark Silby, associate professor of biology, on a two-week research trip to Iceland, where students collected samples of environmental bacteria from glaciers.

“I really started getting interested in research while I was on the Iceland trip,” she said. “That’s when I could see it as a career path for me.”

Perry had interest in healthcare from working as a dental assistant, a job she still held while a student at UMassD, but before starting college never considered the possibility of going into research. Collaborating on research with UMassD faculty opened her up to the possibilities of a career as a researcher. “I’m always learning something new. It’s so exciting!”

Her time in the lab as a student prepared her to work with some of the world’s top researchers in the labs of Harvard Medical School. Each day, she applies the skills she learned at UMassD, like cell culture and working with research mice, to conduct experiments that could lead to major developments in cancer treatment. “I have to stay organized, be precise, and pay attention to every detail.”

Perry will be applying to medical school next year, where she hopes to blend her love of research with clinical work to make a positive impact on people and their communities. “I want to be able to help people. Especially after seeing the hardships that people have faced during the pandemic, I believe I can make a difference as a medical professional.” She recently began volunteering with Boston Cares to help connect the elderly community with resources they need during the pandemic.

One doesn’t become a part of a Harvard Medical research team by chance. Perry’s achievements are the result of years of hard work as a student and a determination to succeed. She worked four jobs, including supporting her fellow students as a peer mentor in the STAR Center, in addition to her courses and research work. But, taking on more challenges and being busy is what motivates her.

“Getting this far was challenging. I am so grateful for my professors who always kept me motivated with new opportunities to learn with them on research projects. It is amazing to think that I am now working on forefront of science, with people who are doing groundbreaking research.”