Growing up in Granada Hills, California, Mandeep Sandhu ’18 was “the kid digging in the garden identifying insects or creating mini science projects in the kitchen,” as she recalls. While her interest in science grew out of a desire to “better understand the physical world,” Sandhu was also drawn to learning about spiritual aspects of existence. “I am a Punjabi Sikh woman, but I grew up attending Catholic school—an experience that sparked an interest in understanding other people’s beliefs,” she says. As she prepares to graduate with a dual major in biology and religious studies, Sandhu has combined these two areas of interest into a senior thesis that she will present on Capstone Day on May 3.
Sandhu’s thesis, “CRISPR Genetic Editing: Paths for Christian Acceptance and Analysis of In Vivo and In Vitro Efficiency,” explores genetic engineering practices in the context of Christian beliefs. She was inspired by her experiences this past summer shadowing an OB-GYN doctor at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where she observed the often-complex ways that patients’ religious beliefs informed their decision making about care and treatment. According to Sandhu, advancements in CRISPR-cas9, a technology that enables geneticists to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding, or altering sections of the DNA sequence, has opened up ethical as well as scientific conversations in many religious communities. For her thesis, she looked at some of this discourse, locating “four major tensions for many Christians when they think about genetic editing: beginning of life, the Creator-human relationship, imago Dei (image of God), and stewardship.” Sandhu explains, “with these major concerns in mind, I identified epigenetics, somatic cell genetic editing, and in vivo genetic editing research as important research paths to pursue, as they have the potential to produce techniques that more Christian individuals would feel comfortable using.” Her thesis concludes with an experimental proposal for in vivo and in vitro techniques that are more aligned with Christian ethics.
In April, Sandhu’s research won first place in the Vosburg Seminar on Social Justice and Contemporary Social Issues, hosted annually by the McAlister Center for Religious Activities at The Claremont Colleges. The seminar aims to encourage providing students across the 5Cs to identify and explore moral and social justice issues and problems and suggest possible methods to address them that are realistic and appropriate. For Sandhu, completing her thesis was a way to begin to evaluate “potential scientific research paths that may accommodate Christian concerns, and hopefully increase the availability of clinical genetic editing therapies to these patients.” With plans to attend medical school herself, Sandhu believes that having a background in religious studies will help her better understand the motivations and stances of religious individuals in making heathcare decisions.
Following graduation, Sandhu will spend the next year working in Dr. Aran’s lab at Keck Graduate Institute, which has a focus on biomedical devices for diagnostics and therapeutics. She is grateful to Scripps for providing an academically challenging learning environment and allowing her to explore her diverse interests. “Scripps has helped me develop into a confident woman who is not afraid to ask the tough questions, or even the easy clarification questions in the classroom. This confidence is something essential that will help me as I enter the very male-dominated medical and STEM worlds.”
Along with the work of other Scripps seniors, you can hear Sandhu’s presentation of her research this Thursday, May 3, during Capstone Day.