NBC Latino congratulates: Juan Rivera-Correa

This summer, Juan Rivera-Correa is not just giving back to his community; he is giving back to the world. Juan is conducting biomedical research at Columbia Medical School on the virus that causes the common cold.

“It was the hardest work I have ever done,” Juan admits. “Sometimes you get frustrated doing it, but it is rewarding to see the results of your hard work.”

Juan spent his summer creating experiments on nineteen different genes that inhibit the replication of the virus in cells. In layman’s terms, he infected hundreds of cell cultures with the virus to see if certain genes could stop the virus from reproducing and spreading. He is scheduled to explain his findings at two events.

“I will be presenting at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium this weekend and I have The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in November,” Juan says. “That’s the biggest national conference of science for minorities.”

Juan has previous experience, but according to his mentor Michael Schreiber, this was his first summer studying biology like this.

“By the end of the summer he became a very independent researcher and really exceeded my expectations,” Schreiber says.

Juan has taken the opportunity Columbia University has given him and run with it. He has potential to make a difference when he is a seasoned researcher.

NBC Latino congratulates: Juan Rivera Correa juaintonnnn education NBC Latino News

Juan in the laboratory with hundreds of his samples. (Photo/ Brenda Raud)

Name: Juan Rivera-Correa
Age: 21
School: University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus
Hometown: Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Favorite activities: I like to visit new places like going to a beach, a new island I’ve never been to before, or going to a museum I’ve never knew existed. There are so many things that I always see. I think that If I have a chance to explore and see new things, why not? I really like look at the scenery when I go out and run.

I’m passionate about…  Well, right now graduating soon, but I care most about the research I am doing now and my career. I think that since I am such a curious person it’s the right career path for me. You literally explore how body works. I’m researching the immune system. We have some idea of how it works, but there are so many parts we haven’t even explored. It is really interesting trying to understand how my body protects itself. I don’t know everything about how these processes going on inside me work. That is so interesting to me.

What my summer has in store: I was trying to see if some genes had the ability to inhibit the replication of the rhino virus, which causes the common cold.  I was studying the ability of these genes. I activated the genes and then infected them with the virus to see if the virus would replicate and reproduce. With all the genes I worked with, I found that they all inhibited the virus. I worked with 19 genes. It was a lot of work. Each gene is its own experiments. Each experiment takes at least two weeks and I had to monitor all 19 of my experiments at once. I had two and a half weeks to do it. I used almost 70 plates per experiment.

My inspiration: My parents and my family. I wanted to get off the island and explore the world which is something they haven’t had the chance to do. They have worked hard with a family with 5 kids and they never complained. They focused on making our family work, we didn’t have luxuries but they gave us enough. They made so many sacrifices. They have helped me travel for my work. There is a whole world to explore. How can you say you lived your life to the fullest when you stayed in one place and missed out on so much?

Short-term plan: I’m thinking of applying to graduate schools in the states so I can study and conduct more biomedical research.

In 10 years, I see myself… establishing my career. I would like to create a vaccine. I haven’t decided which disease I would like to study, but my ultimate goal is to create a vaccine and discover a new drug. It would mean that not only am I curious about diseases, but I can do something about it and change it. At least a small change. That will be my impact in the world.

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