At age eleven Peter Cheifetz '01 sat in a room at Children's Hospital in Boston while doctors explained that Crohn's disease, a chronic intestinal condition, was the cause of his mysterious ailments. Right away, the young boy vowed to someday help other sick children.
Nine years later he is making good on his promise. This summer found Cheifetz back at Children's, but this time he was a researcher as well as a patient. He spent the summer assisting doctors as they conducted tests that may help people who suffer from Crohn's disease, as well as from ulcerative colitis, which affects the colon. The work, which he heard about from his own doctor, will continue until the end of next summer. "It's kind of like helping other people and helping myself at the same time," says Cheifetz, a biology and business-economics concentrator who is considering medical school. "I know somehow it will help somebody somewhere. It's on the cutting edge of the field, and I've learned a lot more about the disease I have."
Crohn's disease causes painful inflammation of the small and large intestines. Cheifetz, by looking at specimens under a microscope, is investigating the formation of new blood vessels in tissue damaged by Crohn's and colitis, which are known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease. The purpose is to show whether it is helpful or detrimental for the body to form new blood vessels. The new vessels can help heal wounds or ulcers, but they may also cause injuries. The study, Cheifetz says, could help scientists figure out why the disease occurs, to develop better medicine, and even to find a cure. Cheifetz, whose full-time work was funded by a fellowship from Solvay Pharmaceuticals and the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, also spent part of the summer studying a protein that is produced during the inflammation.
Working at the same hospital where he is a patient is "very strange, especially when you have an appointment the same day you work," Cheifetz says. "It's very interesting to see your doctor as slightly more of a colleague than a doctor. It gives me a feel for what being a doctor is like. It gives me the experience to know what I'm getting myself into."