Through their lens: Nancy Tran sees the scientific method at work in daily life

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Nancy Tran did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer’s 35mm film projector. Tran submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection


(Nancy also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.) 

Over the past eight weeks, my non-science related activity was a class about the history of the motion pictures. Dr. Gerhard Bauer taught us about how this “optical illusion” worked and showed us the amazing quality of film even in the 1930’s. It was astonishing that even today, we use the same 35mm film format that became the standard back in 1892 from Edison’s Kinetograph movie camera. Before this second activity class, I also had no idea that colored film existed such a long time ago; I always thought everything was in black and white until recently.

On our last 2nd activity day, we, creativity students, had the opportunity to go to Dr. Bauer’s own movie theater to experience a real movie –one projected by film. We watched cartoons by Disney such as the “Three Little Pigs” and “Moving Day” (featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy). Honestly, I was really surprised at the quality of the film because the colors were very bright and the animation moved very smoothly. Keep in mind that these are countless images each shown for a brief moment at a very fast speed from the reel. In addition to the cartoons, we watched Sherlock Holmes and a news reel. The movie was really intriguing and had a great story line compared to most movies today. There was comedy, suspense, and all sorts of feelings! Also, we got to take a really close look at the machine itself. It truly was like magic before your eyes.

Overall, the history of the motion pictures can also be related to science as most things are. The movies did not become perfect within a single try, it took many different ideas and hypotheses to make things better one step at a time. Like in science, people built off of what was already discovered. I never would have learned about the history of the motion pictures if I had not received this internship. I am very thankful to CIRM and the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures for giving me the opportunity to learn more every day and become well rounded. This was honestly the best summer I’ve ever had.

Nancy Tran

Through their lens: Ryan Fong learns the role of science and innovation in life as well as in the lab

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Ryan Fong did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Image of the 35mm film shown by Gerhard Bauer in his home studio. Fong submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Ryan also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.)

For the UC Davis group, the second discipline we have been studying is the History of Film.

It has been an illuminating subject, starting with the invention of photography, sound recording, film recording, and finally a combination of these three techniques to produce color films as we know them. Finally, we learned about TV and recent digital inventions for sound and film.

To learn about the origins of a technology that many take for granted as a fixture of everyday life, it was amazing to see how science and human innovation created a revolution in entertainment – and really, in the preservation of history.

To start with, we learned how film is based on the concept of optical illusions – how the eye can be tricked to see a moving image if still images are moved fast enough. What was impressed upon us by Dr. Bauer was how little the film industry has deviated from its origins – proving the longevity and efficiency of the original system.

We also quickly learned how much digital formats sacrificed in terms of quality in the name of compatibility and ease of use. For example, although many of us use mp3 files in our daily lives, not everyone understands the significance of this file format. 90% of the original recording is lost to compress the file’s size, which is already a crude digital imitation of a true sound recording. Additionally, we learned how the movies will never be the same. Theaters have been converted to little more than glorified television. 35mm truly has no digital equal in quality.

One of the highlights of my internship experience this summer was seeing all that we learned about in action. Dr. Bauer maintains a working and professional-grade movie theater in his own home, with his training as a projectionist. While there, he also demonstrated records from the 20s, which astounded us in their high quality. He also displayed his skill as a drummer by playing along with a few of the records with his vintage drum set. We were also treated to seeing one of the first television sets, and the first color television set circa the 1950s. Using a transmitter he built himself, we were able to see modern programming displayed by the TVs all-original machinery.

But this was just the introduction. The main feature had yet to come. As we settled in with candy, popcorn, and sodas, we watched the Disney color cartoon shorts The Three Little Pigs and Moving Day. Moving Day was especially entertaining because it starred the Disney characters in their original forms. We then watched a news reel from 1939, which included events such as the coronation of Pope Pius XII, the Queen’s visit to America and meeting with the President, Lou Gehrig’s speech at his last baseball game, the Indianapolis Classic race, and the events surrounding the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Finally, we watched a Sherlock Holmes film, “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

While these pictures were playing, Dr. Bauer demonstrated the projectors’ function to us. Each film reel contained 6,000 feet of film for sixty minutes of playtime. It was truly a treat to see how the mechanisms we had learned about through lectures actually worked, such as the intermittent mechanism and vacuum tubes for sound amplification.

Through it all, the quality of the picture and sound was surprisingly exemplary, and made us all subscribers to Dr. Bauer’s teaching of “Analog Over Digital.” Having a ton of fun using the entertainment tools of a time past by taught us respect for the past and gave us an experience none of us is likely to be able to experience elsewhere.

All in all, studying a second discipline contributed to my internship experience. It provided a recreational and entertainment aspect to the program, as well as showing us, by example and in action, how scientists don’t necessarily confine their studies to just science. Thank you Dr. Bauer for opening your home and personal experience with us, and thank you CIRM for implementing the second discipline aspect to the program.

Ryan Fong

Through their lens: Yimin Yang learns about the role science plays in the arts

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Yimin Yang did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer running his film projector. Yimin Yang submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Yimin also submitted a blog entry about her HIV/AIDS research project, which you can read here.)

Hello, my name is Yimin Yang, and I have been interning at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures this summer. In addition to spending time in the lab, I also participated in a “second activity”, which was a class on the history of film, taught by our PI, Dr. Bauer. Even though I enjoy watching movies, I never gave much thought to the science behind how they were made, so I felt the course gave me a better understanding of what motion pictures are, how they came to be, and how they worked.

I learned that motion pictures went back as far as the late 19th century—a big shock to me, as I did not think they had come into existence until at least the 1910s. I was also astonished by how early sound and color were developed and used in movies. The techniques they used to create color in early films, such as the three-color Technicolor process, were absolutely fascinating.

Another part of the lectures that stuck out in my mind was about the digital revolution. Though we are surrounded by digital media, rarely do we contemplate or think about how it actually works. Unlike analog media which stores continuous information, digital media consists of small, discrete points. The use of film prints in motion pictures has been rendered almost obsolete by the digital revolution, as most cinemas and movie theaters now use a 2K projector. Digital media, while more easily distributed, compresses analog signals, resulting in a reduction of quality. High definition television at 1080p would not compare to 35mm film at approximately 5K. This was an interesting revelation for me, as I had previously thought filming in HD was an upgrade in quality over filming on film.

Even though I found all the lectures to be interesting, the highlight of the second activity was when we visited Dr. Bauer’s house to watch films in a vintage movie theater. I was absolutely amazed by the image quality in the movies and clips we were shown. I especially loved the short Disney animation clip we saw, which were The Three Little Pigs and Moving Day; it was hard to believe that all of the frames in these eight minute videos were hand drawn, considering how impeccably well-done they were. All of the cartoon characters’ exaggerated movements were smooth and animated perfectly on screen. Though there were visible scratches throughout the video, I felt the quality of animation was comparable to that of modern day cartoons.

In addition to seeing movies, we also got to hear authentic, vintage records from the 1920s and see an actual 35mm film projector. The whole day was just an incredible experience, and it really opened my eyes to a new world of things. By participating in this second activity, I not only learned about the history of the motion pictures but also realized what vital role science plays in making films. It was through experimentation and an understanding of optics and sound that we could enjoy movies and television the way we do now.

Yimin Yang

Guest blogger Alan Trounson — July’s stem cell research highlights

Health human T cell | NIAID

Each month CIRM President Alan Trounson gives his perspective on recently published papers he thinks will be valuable in moving the field of stem cell research forward. This month’s report, along with an archive of past reports, is available on the CIRM website.

My report this month delves into some pretty complex science, but it is in an area that is integral to stem cell science: our immune systems.

Efforts to fine-tune our immune response can arrive at a therapeutic benefit from many different directions. Two papers this month point to potential therapies from both augmenting and tamping down the immune response. Another paper seeks to produce large armies of immune cells with a very narrow focus, wiping out cancerous blood cells.

Two papers appeared together in the journal Cell Stem Cell, one from a team at the University of California, San Francisco and one from a team at Peking University. They both succeeded in growing functional thymus tissue from embryonic stem cells, something that has evaded past investigators. The tiny thymus gland is necessary to develop fully functional T cells able to recognize foreign invaders, but also able to recognize self and not result in autoimmune disease. These papers point to the possibility of enhancing the immune response in the elderly whose thymus is often worn out, and in cancer patients whose immune cells have been damaged by chemotherapy.

The research also holds out potential for reaching a major long-term goal for stem cell science—producing tissue to repair part of the body and transplanting it without the new cells being recognized as foreign and being destroyed by the immune system. If thymic tissue can be generated from the same stem cells used to create the repair cells, the thymic cells might induce tolerance for the needed repair without immune suppressant drugs.

The lead paper this month appeared in Nature Biotechnology and seeks to scale up a very promising therapy that produced significant clinical results in leukemia patients earlier this year. A team at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and others around the country isolated immune system T cells from patients or donors and genetically modified them so that they would recognize cancerous B cells in the bloodstream. Those cells modified with a technology dubbed CAR, wiped out the cancer and the patients went into remission.

The problem is supply. Many patient’s disease preempts using their own T cells, and often patients can not find a donor that is a close enough immunologic match, and even if they do, donor cells always carry significant risk. The Sloan-Kettering team decided to try to make large quantities of T cells from pluripotent stem cells, the type made by reprogramming adult cells into iPS cells. But they took advantage of one oddity of iPS cells—they seem to retain some memory of the type of cell they were before they were converted. So, the team used mature T cells from healthy donors as the starting point, hoping the resulting iPS cells would more easily mature into T cells. After the stem cells were genetically altered with the CAR technology, they were able to get a 50-fold expansion of the T cells. A strong step toward an off-the-shelf therapy.

We at CIRM are so concerned about the role of immunology in our eventual success that we funded one round of grants all focused on these issues. You can see those awards and read more about them here.

My full report is available online, along with links to my reports from previous months.

Alan Trounson

Through their lens: Sarah Zhang gets a dose of film studies with her HIV research

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Sarah Zang did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Gerhard Bauer at UC Davis. Part of the Creativity Award program required that students study a second subject outside the field of science as a way of promoting creative thinking.

Gerhard Bauer working with his film projector. Sarah Zhang submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

(Sarah also submitted a blog entry about her research project, which you can read here.)

This summer, in addition to being exposed to the world of regenerative medicine, I was also exposed to the world of film, or more specifically, the history of the motion pictures. My name is Siruo Zhang, and for the past two months, I was taught about films by my lab’s PI, Dr. Gerhard Bauer. Every Thursday afternoon, all of the CIRM creativity students at UC Davis gathered in the meeting room for a lecture on the history of films by Dr. Bauer. During the past eight weeks, I learned things from how black and white films came to become colored to how sounds became possible to be shown alongside films.

In 1888, Thomas Alva Edison had the idea to invent a device that is able to record and then reproduce objects in motion; he called this invention a “Kinetoscope”. Edison’s assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, turned Edison’s idea into practical reality, and the first motion picture camera was born. The Kinetograph is a camera that creates films for the Kinetoscope. It was large and bulky, so it remained stationary. As for the kinetoscope, it enables people to watch films by looking through the lens at the top of the machine. It had its disadvantages, because only one person is allowed to watch the film at one time. Also, since the film is continuously ran through the Kinetoscope, it is often worn out very quickly. Over the next few years, better machines that were able to record and reproduce moving objects were invented. They were capable of being moved and were able to produce vibrant colors.

As a conclusion to our classes on the history of the films, we were invited to Dr. Bauer’s home to watch actual films from the nineteen hundreds in his private movie theater. We watched several short films, including Mickey Mouse, The Three Little Pigs, and Sherlock Holmes. I was astounded by the amazing image qualities and vivid colors of the films. I was also surprised that learn that for animated cartoons, each frame was hand-drawn, and to think that if a total of 24 frames were ran per second, for a cartoon that is only eight minutes, 11,520 frames needed to be hand-drawn. I’m definitely glad I got to learn so much about films and to actually watch some that were from film reels.

Sarah Zhang

$40 million for new awards to target cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease Huntington’s disease and more

Retinal cells like these could lead to new therapies for blindness, one of the diseases targeted by our new Early Translation Awards

Yesterday our Governing Board approved funding for 13 new Early Translation Awards worth more than $40 million.

These awards fund a stage of research that comes after a scientist comes across a good idea for a new therapy (a cell type that could replace tissue damaged in a disease,  for example, or a drug found through testing on stem cells) and before the scientist has good evidence that the idea will work. As our president Alan Trounson said in our press release:

“The strategies are focused on problems where we think there is a very reasonable chance that they will evolve into clinical studies for treating some of the worst diseases we have in the community.”

This is our fourth round of funding for the Early Translation Awards. You can see the complete list of recipients on our website. The awards in this round focus on prostate cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, bone fracture, blindness, Huntington’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), autism, stroke, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, sickle cell disease and metabolic disorders–all disabling diseases without adequate cures.

These newly funded awards are part of what we call our funding portfolio–those awards that are funding projects on their way to the clinic for a particular disease, or are starting clinical trials. You can see a complete list of those awards, along with the disease focus, on our website.

Many scientists who receive our Early Translation Awards first got their idea for a therapy while carrying out research with one of our other awards. In fact, eight of the scientists in this round of funding had previous CIRM funding for an earlier stage of research. If a scientist’s Early Translation award provides good results, the scientists are then able to apply for one of our Disease Team awards, which fund the effort of compiling data to convince the Food and Drug Administration to allow them to test it in people.  Other organizations fund only early discovery research, or only preclinical research. Under those conditions, researchers continually pause their projects to look for new sources of funding as the project moves through the phases toward clinical trial.

We have information on our website about the very long process of testing a good idea (the Early Translation awards), building a team to compile data prior to clinical trials (Disease Team), and then running clinical trials (Disease Team and Strategic Partnership Awards).

Congratulations and good luck to those new award recipients.

Amy Adams

Through their lens: Brian Woo learned the importance of organizing his experiments

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Brian Woo did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jill Helms at Stanford University.

Woo submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Hi! My name is Brian Woo, and this summer I attended Stanford’s Institutes for Medicine Research program, an eight-week internship program. My lab focused on liposomal-Wnt3a (L-Wnt3a), which has been shown to be a greatly effective therapeutic drug due to its ability to stimulate adult stem cell proliferation and renewal.

Many of the people in my lab studied Wnt3a’s therapeutic potential; however, the project I worked on this summer focused specifically on studying Wnt3a at a molecular level: specifically, I studied how Wnt3a interacted with its two receptors, Frizzled (Fz) and LRP, and how those interactions allowed L-Wnt3a to activate the Wnt signaling pathway

I definitely enjoyed working in a lab environment. One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most about working in a lab was the aura of camaraderie which was extremely helpful especially to me, because I had no idea how to even use a pipette before entering the lab! Everyone in the lab always had a smile on their face, and everyone was extremely willing to answer any questions you might have had and such. For me, I can’t imagine myself working alone, or in an environment where people aren’t friendly; I think that teamwork and collaboration are absolutely essential in order to accomplish just about anything. In terms of challenges… well, let me just start off by saying that I had my (very) fair share of mistakes during the course of my lab internship! I definitely learned the importance of precise measurements and clear thinking: organization is absolutely critical in preventing errors- I remember a time during my internship where I was working with thirty western blot samples, and due to bad organization, I accidentally added the contents of one sample to another, which was not good, to say the least. I learned how to design and execute my own experiments, and the biggest challenge here was definitely the clairvoyant thinking required beforehand in order to execute aforementioned experiments correctly and with as minimal error as possible.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my experience at Stanford and I hope to continue my work during the school year.

Brian Woo

Brian submitted this video about his experience:

Through their lens: Mark Sun studies muscle biology and aging

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Brian Woo did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jill Helms at Stanford University.

As a fresh high school graduate switching from the east coast to the west, I was incredibly nervous at first about this internship. I was moving away from New Jersey, away from my home, away from my friends. I was moving away from all realms of security and comfort. I had never worked in a lab previously, and had no idea of what to expect. Thus, being given the opportunity to work with and shadow researchers at the Conboy lab at UC Berkeley, I was hesitantly unsure about the prospects of learning firsthand what it was like to work in a lab.

Little did I know that this internship would be one of the most enjoyable and intellectually enriching experiences of my life. Working under the mentorship of Michael Conboy, Christian Elabd, and Wendy Cousin, I learned more than I could have ever expected to learn. I learned everything from the pathways involved in muscle regeneration to various lab techniques such as cell culturing, Western blotting, and PCR amplification of DNA.

When I would try to explain some of the processes to my family, who have had no experience with biology, they were amazed and confused with the complexity of some of the stuff that I was doing. Furthermore, seeing the application of biology directly was very intriguing and exciting. Being allowed to carry out lab techniques on my own was incredibly enjoying, as I was being given the opportunity to fail and then learn from my failures with friendly and helpful mentors correcting my errors. I also enjoyed being able to make new friends, having just moved from the other side of the United States, with other interns and the mentors. Some of the most challenging aspects I encountered are the fragility of some of the experiments, for some could be ruined with a simple and careless touch. In the end, however, this internship taught me much, and has opened up my mind to a possibility in a career in research.

Mark Sun

You can read more about the work of the Conboy lab here.

Through their lens: Christina Ren values City of Hope’s patient-centered philosophy

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Christina Ren is a junior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California. She works in the lab of Dr. Ching-Cheng Chen in the Department of Stem Cell and Leukemia. Her current project at the City of Hope aims to study the impact of leukemia cells and leukemia-derived exosomes on stroma cell differentiation and its chemoprotective effect on leukemia cells. In addition to my interest in science research, she also founded a science community service mentoring program called Science Alliance Network which aims to help foster school clubs to pair elementary and middle school “buddies” with high school mentors to help these buddies on their science fair project. Christina also enjoys extracurricular activities, such as ballet, Chinese classical dance, flute, and swimming.

The City of Hope high school summer interns submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Every day during my walk over to the cafeteria at the City of Hope, I witness my inspiration: a small patient room protruding from the elegant glass buildings of the Helford Hospital. Through the windows, I see a collage of photos plastered on the opposite wall, covering the entire surface of the pinboard like a monolayer of cells on a petri dish. Sometimes I stop and squint to see if I can make out the individual photos; they are all of people. Some are of patients out abroad traveling to scenic places, some of nurses and their fellow coworkers. There are also frequently patients in there, hooked up to expensive-looking machinery. One elderly woman wearing a soft, floral lavender headscarf was reading The Fault of Our Stars (I remember covers of books that I’ve read very well, and I recognized the blue, cloud shaped cover design instantly). Another young chap was chattering away with a caretaker the next day.

This moving sight stirs within me deep emotions of empathy, compassion, and motivation. It’s a daily, tangible reminder of who research ultimately helps: real people. City of Hope’s patient-centered philosophy is present at every corner I turn– a gate towards the front end of the campus writes, “There is no profit in curing the body if in the process we destroy the soul”. I attended a seminar talk from an associate professor entitled, “Neural Stem Cell-Mediated Cancer Therapy: From Bench to Bedside” where Professor Aboody talked on her research on neural stem cells for targeted drug delivery. I am reinvigorated each time I walk under the Mary Ann and Dave Brooks Bridge of Healing after lunch.

Though I do not attempt to glorify the drudgery of research at times, I am always honored to be a gear in this intricate clockwork striving towards scientific progress. Because I know, while looking through the window panes of that singular patient room, that research for the betterment of humanity is forever beautiful and sacred. Thank you, CIRM, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to work at City of Hope.

Christina Ren

Blood vessels cells go with the flow

Harvard scientists have grown the cells that line blood vessels, called vascular endothelial cells, from embryonic-like reprogrammed stem cells. (These are the stem cells generated from adult tissues like skin, also called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs).

This wouldn’t be a big deal–after all the whole point of these cells is that they can form all the tissues of the body. What’s really interesting in this case is how they did it: part of coaxing the stem cells to turn into cells that line blood vessels relied on generating movement over the surface of the cells that mimicked blood flow. Basically, the cells needed to feel like they were at home.

The iPSCs responded by maturing into different kinds of cells based on the force of the movement. Cells that were exposed to a faster “flow” grew into cells that line arteries and those exposed to a slower “flow” grew into vein cells. It’s like deciding what kind of house you’re going to build based on the speed of traffic on your street.

The discovery has some immediate applications. In a press release, the lead scientist, Guillermo García-Cardena, said his team is now using this information to grow cells like those in regions affected by diseases like artherosclerosis (plaque build-up in arteries that can eventually lead to heart disease). Those cells are being used to understand how blood vessels are affected by arterial plaques and also what kinds of drugs might address the problem.

This study, published July 25 in the scientific journal, Stem Cell Reports, has a lot in common with other recent stem cell discoveries – namely, that where you put stem cells makes a huge difference in how they mature. Location and the cellular environment matters a great deal. A good example of this was recent work at the University of Pittsburg, which my colleague Don Gibbons wrote about a couple of weeks ago, showing that human iPSCs grafted onto a mouse heart scaffold would mature into a beating heart.

Another facet of the Harvard finding is that the blood vessel cells can perform three important tasks: mount an inflammatory response, keep blood from leaking from vessels and preventing clots. So another likely application is reducing the amount of the blood clot prevention drug, heparin, required for kidney dialysis patients and in patients with lung failure. Garcia-Cardena foresees a future when a dialysis patient’s own cells are used to create iPSCs which are then coated onto a device that they can use to reduce possible blood clots, instead of the routine heparin shots they now receive.

Rina Shaikh-Lekso