Through their lens: Charlotte Hayward has brains on her mind, and her face

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. 

Charlotte Hayward is a Santa Barbara High School student who is doing a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Tod Kippin at the University of California, Santa Barbara

In the last six weeks I have come to realize that I have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. This program caught my attention as soon as I heard about it. I mean, how many opportunities do high school students have to do innovative and groundbreaking research? Well, in case you are unaware, not very many. Just the thought of doing stem cell research during my free time this summer sounded like a dream, but after having experienced it I can truly say it exceeded my expectations.

My project focused on studying how stress on expectant mothers later affects the neural stem cell system and behavior of their offspring. We primarily worked with rats in conducting our research, and let me tell you that was the biggest learning experience of all.

On the first day I was a little apprehensive of conducting animal research, however after experiencing it firsthand and discovering the significance of my project, I have an entirely new view of it. Each day was entirely new and exciting, I felt continuously interested and challenged. On a day to day basis you could find me doing anything from running locomotor activity tests to doing profusions.

Everyday I walked into the lab, slipped on my black nitrile gloves, and got to work. Time flew by and before I knew it the day was done, and I would go home thinking about the exciting things to come the next day.

The people in my lab were so fun and refreshing to be around and I could tell they were really passionate about what they were doing. It was wonderful to see people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to research.

In conclusion I would like to tell you a story about one night during the first week of my research. I walked into the house tired but stimulated by all the work I had done and said to my dad, “I got some brain matter on my face today!”. Of course my dad thought I was crazy, but I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever done. I was experiencing things entirely new and so exciting to me, and that is the most valuable thing I could ever ask for. This program offered me more than I had ever imagined and made me even more excited about all the academic opportunities still ahead of me.

Charlotte Hayward

Charlotte sent us this video of her experience:

New method of gene repair developed for gene therapy and stem cell therapy combination treatments

Photo credit: HDBuzz

Researchers have found a new way to snip and edit defective genes using pluripotent stem cells and a DNA-slicing protein from a bacteria that causes meningitis. The study, published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was a collaboration between researchers from UC Santa Barbara, The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University.

A protein called Cas9, found abundantly in the bacteria Neisseria meningiditis, is a precise DNA cutter, much like a sharp pair of scissors. In combination with small RNA molecules, the research team could manipulate the Cas9 protein to cut, remove and replace problem genes in human pluripotent stem cells.

Pluripotent stem cells can regenerate their populations indefinitely and can develop into any kind of human tissue cell, so this approach holds great promise for treating a variety of diseases.

James A Thompson, the study’s principal investigator and a senior faculty member at both UCSB and the University of Wisconsin–Madison said of the study

“This collaboration has taken us further toward realizing the full potential of these cells because we can now manipulate their genomes in a precise, efficient manner.”

This combination of gene therapy and stem cell therapy isn’t new. CIRM has eight teams working on getting gene therapy and stem cell combination treatments into the clinic. A trial for HIV treatment started last month. One for Beta Thalasemia will begin later this year (insert link: ), and one for sickle cell disease will begin early next year.

The more options stem cell scientists have available, the better — because different techniques are likely to work best in certain niches and for certain diseases. This new method provides one more tool in regenerative medicine’s toolbox.

"Scary G" and the future of stem cell research

Just a few of the Creativity Program students – with Mani Vessal, PhD in the middle (he’s the one with the suit and tie)

It’s quite inspiring to find yourself in a room with a group of people who have just found their calling in life and are excited about it. You can’t help but get caught up in their enthusiasm.

That’s what it is like to be in the presence of the high school students who spent the past 8 weeks in the CIRM Creativity program, working in the research labs of some of the best stem cell scientists in the country. The goal of the program is to give high school students, who are interested in science, a sense of what it’s like to work in the lab, to give them a glimpse into the future and to help train a whole new generation of stem cell scientists.

If the group that we saw at the Creativity finale this week is anything to go by, the future of stem cell research is very strong indeed.

CIRM Science Officer Mani Vessal, PhD, is the brains (and the heart) behind the program:

“Other than making me feel quite old, looking at the students makes me feel tremendously proud. I get a wonderful sense of gratification being able to offer them a chance to see what it’s like to be a scientist.

When I started the program one of my main goals was to provide exposure and opportunity to students who have no channels, or money, available to them to experience cutting edge medical research and science education. We want this program to open doors for students who might otherwise never even think that a career in science was possible.

Seeing how well these students do, how quickly they rise to the challenge is truly gratifying for all of us involved in running the program. “ 

The students said one of the best parts of the program was that they were treated like adults. Several said they had expected to be given relatively minor things to do, instead they were given cells to cultivate, experiments to do, poster presentations to prepare. In short, they were given the chance to do some real work, real science and learn from the best.

One of the mentors was Dr. Gerhard Bauer at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures. His students affectionately nicknamed him “Scary G” because he pushed them to do well, to work hard, to try new things. But he also gave them a chance to try things they had never done before, to open their eyes to a whole new world. And as if that wasn’t enough he then gave them a special movie showing at his own private movie theater.

The word we heard most during the event was “awesome”. It’s a word that tends to get overused a lot these days. But coming from the Creativity students, it sounded just right.

Here’s a video “mash-up” of videos and photos that the students submitted as part of their internship curriculum.

kevin mccormack