miRcore High School Volunteer Program



miRcore (mir-core) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit scientific research organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan, whose vision is to democratize medical research, holding that anyone should be able to initiate medical research that matters to them and thus facilitate *personalized medicine. In accordance with our vision to engage with the community, we have recruited high school volunteers to advocate for personalized medicine, patient groups with certain diseases/symptoms, and science research since 2011.

We currently (2016-2017) mentor about 130 high school students from 50 different high schools in computational biology, which includes all aspects of STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine), from as close as Ann Arbor to as far as San Diego. Some volunteers are from Canada and India.

*Personalized medicine: treating each patient based on their unique genetic make-up, life experience, and current environment


What miRcore Does for High School Student Education

We help our students understand diseases in terms of genes and environmental networks, become advocates of personalized medicine, and use publicly accessible data based on their own research interests in the era of big data. Through our program, they develop greater interest in STEMM while developing leadership skills through their community outreach activities. We want to prepare leaders in STEMM and engender a gene-literate citizenry. 


Volunteer Program Activities

Every summer, we hold summer camps and recruit volunteers from them. Our student volunteers participate in many activities.

1. Weekly Meetings

During the school year, we meet our volunteers every Saturday in person for two hours at the University of Michigan. Students out of town participate through the internet.

We have taught them topics related to functional genomics, chemistry, computer programming, statistics, and computational biology research.


  • Disease of focus – every year, students vote for a disease of focus, and that disease becomes their main area of study for the year. They actively advocate for the patient group and research into the disease. Depression is the disease of focus 2016-2017 

2. Microgrant Research Fundraiser 

Students raise funds for micro-grants to scientists who research the disease. These fundraisers work to connect the public to scientific research, advocate for patient groups and science research on the diseases/symptoms, and educate the community on certain diseases/symptoms.


  • Since 2013, they have raised research grant funds for Alzheimer’s disease ($8,000), Autism ($9,297), breast cancer ($2,110), lung cancer (about $4,000), Parkinson’s disease ($5,021), and type 1 diabetes ($2,213).
  • Students launched fundraisers using crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo or For the web fundraiser, they dedicated their time and talent to producing vivid and informative video clips.
  • Students also raised funds onsite from school peers, downtown streets, and fundraisers at local markets with posters, flyers, and music performances. While raising funds, they performed at nursing facilities for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by singing, playing instruments, and dancing.

3. Annual Events

Events are open to the public and any high schoolers can participate by registering. The disease of focus each year serves as the underlying theme for events.


  • Genes and Health Contest (February)


Format: multiple choice test, Jeopardy-style tournament, and computational research


  • High School Research Conference (late May)

research conference slide11

This event is designed to provide high school students experience with science conference setting. Students publish their research abstracts in the proceedings.

Format: keynote speaker, oral and poster presentations, and workshops

4. Student Achievements

Among our mentored students, we guide those who show excellence to do advanced research and publish papers.

  • Jungsoo Chang and Marianne Cowherd scored 6th and 16th competing with 46 academic and professional scientists in a subcategory of the international DREAM 7 challenge (unofficial) in 2012.
  • Grace Ganzel received the 2nd place Grand Award at the Southeast Michigan Science Fair and was selected to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2014 in Los Angeles.
  • A seven-student team (Those Kids without PhDs) ranked 11th in the international DREAM 9 computational biology challenge (in Alzheimer’s disease) in competition with professional scientists in 2014.
  • Sanika Kulkarni and Jungwoo Chang published “Activated NFkB pathway in Irf6 deficient mouse model for Van der Woude syndrome” in the Journal of Emerging Investigators in September 2015.
  • Marianne Cowherd is first author of “Transcriptional Regulators are Upregulated in the Substantia Nigra of Parkinson’s Disease Patients,” published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators in November 2015.
  • Neerja Garikipati is among the National Siemens Competition semi-finalists group in 2016. The Siemens Competition is a highly recognized math and science research competition.
  • A paper (on EGFR-miR-133b-MET in lung cancer) by Halla Kabat and Leo Tunkle was accepted to the 2017 International Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing (PSB, forum for leading scientists in the computational biology field). Their achievement is outstanding since, although high school students, they were selected from among international scientists.

5. GIDAS (Genes in Diseases and Symptoms) Chapter

We mentor GIDAS clubs at local schools to educate more students. Our volunteers lead GIDAS, recruit members, share with their peers what they have learned from our teaching, foster scientific research, and advocate for patients with certain diseases/symptoms. We want to expose as many students as possible to STEMM to promote their learning and engender a gene-literate citizenry. In addition to


High Schools with GIDAS as of 2016





High School



Ann Arbor

Community, Huron, Pioneer, Skyline

Bloomfield Hills

Bloomfield Hills


Plymouth-Canton Educational Park

Grand Blanc

Grand Blanc








Rochester Adams


International Academy East



Seven Hills Upper School


Maumee Valley Upper School




Académie Ste Cécile International School




American International School



Our sponsors are Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and the Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery and Engineering (MICDE) at the University of Michigan, as well as the Hyundai motor company.

wiselogoHyundai logo