Through Their Lens: Christina Tebbe masters the art of brain slices

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 Tebbe is a Santa Barbara Senior 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.

Christina Tebbe using a microtome to cut extremely thin slices of brain tissue.
She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed

Working in the lab this summer has been by far one of the best experiences of my life. It’s such a great feeling to finally find something that you are truly passionate about, and now I can confidently say that I know what that feeling is like.

I did so many different activities in my lab from running PCR (polymerase chain reaction), handling mice and rats, staining slides, slicing brain tissue, to euthanizing mice and rats. Surprisingly enough, my favorite activity to do in the lab this summer was slicing brain tissue. To some people this may sound like they most boring and frustrating thing to do. But, to me it was basically all I wanted to do every single day, and I did get to do it practically every single day.

It is hard for me to explain what exactly it is about slicing brain that intrigues me so much, for I feel as if one has to actually experience it to discover the magical feeling that I feel from it. If I had to describe how exactly I feel about slicing brain it would be like this; slicing brain is an art. Each slice is perfectly crafted and delicate that just one wrong movement basically ruins your masterpiece.

So to reiterate what I just said and as cliché as this may sound, it is an art. I am completely mesmerized and in the zone when I slice brain, no one can break my from my moment. I feel like I have become a master at slicing brain tissue that now I almost think of competing with myself to see how fast I can slide through one brain. Although this concept of slicing brain may not be as alluring to others as it is to me, I feel proud to say that I want to be able to slice brain for the rest of my life.

So if one were to ask me the questions of whether or not I wanted to pursue a career in research my reply would have to go something like this, “why of course, just make sure that I can slice some brain.”

Cristina submitted these two videos as part of the Creativity Awards social media curriculum:


Christina Tebbe

Stem cell stories that caught our eye: stroke trial overview, source of platelets and heart repair

Here are some stem cell stories that caught our eye this past week. Some are groundbreaking science, others are of personal interest to us, and still others are just fun.

Blood platelets from donors are often in short supply. Being able to mass-produce them from stem cells could be a boon for cancer patients when chemotherapy has knocked out their platelets.

Newly found stem cell primed to create blood platelets. Low blood platelet counts and the bleeding hazard it causes can be a major side effect of much cancer chemotherapy. Being able to coax the stem cells in your bone marrow into producing more platelets on demand could be a significant boon to cancer patients. Up until now researchers generally thought all the various blood components came from the same stem cells, but a British team has found a subset of those stem cells in mice that is particularly primed to create platelets. The work was published in Nature and was discussed in the Health Canal web site. Next they need to see if they can find the same stem cells in humans.

Overview of stem cell clinical trials for stroke. A writer for reviewed the results of the 20 clinical trials using stem cells as stroke therapy that have been published in the scientific literature in the past two years. He noted that nearly all the trials were small and largely designed to test safety, but a few showed some suggestion of clinical benefit. The teams consistently reported no problems with safety.

The author also reviewed the preclinical animal experiments that supported the trials and suggests that this work is starting to point to which type of stem cell may be best for various therapeutic goals. Deciding which type of stem cell to use in various patients is something our researchers grapple with constantly. You can read about a CIRM Disease Team that is working toward a stroke clinical trial using cells derived from embryonic stem cells here.

Defining the role of the heart’s own stem cells. Researchers tend to agree that the heart has cardiac-specific stem cells, but fewer than most other tissues in the body. Because they are so scarce, no one has been sure of how much of a role they can have in repairing the heart after a heart attack. A British team developed a method to remove the heart stem cells from a strain of mice that had been shown to have the capacity to repair its damaged heart tissue. When the stem cells were removed, the animals were no longer able to make repairs.

But perhaps most important, when the stem cells were re-injected intravenously, they naturally homed to the heart and made the repair. This suggests that if heart stem cells can be mass-produced in the lab, they could be transplanted without invasive surgery. The research appeared in the journal Cell and was described in MedicalXpress.

A better method to prevent cell transplant rejection. A CIRM-funded team at Stanford used a combination of two agents not previously used to block the immune system of mice from rejecting tissues grown from embryonic stem cells. Even with chronic administration of standard immune suppressants researchers have a hard time getting transplanted cells to engraft where they are needed and stay there without being destroyed. The Stanford team administered the new combo for only a short course and still got much improved engraftment and cell survival. The work was published in the journal Stem Cells and the press release from the journal was picked up by benzinga.

They tested the new regimen with two types of tissue including heart cells and showed that not only did the cells stick around, they also repaired heart damage. The leader of the research team, Joseph Wu, also directs a CIRM Disease Team working toward a clinical trial with embryonic stem cell derived cells for severe heart failure. You can read about that project and other CIRM-funded work in heart disease here.

Don Gibbons

Through their lens: Hera Nalbandian learns a new meaning to "sacrifice".

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. 

Hera Nalbandian is a Reseda High School student who is doing a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jill Helms at Stanford University 

The deparaffinization station used to prepare slide-mounted skin graft for analysis.
Submitted to Instagram by Hera Nalbandian.

On my first day in the lab, I observed my mentor transplant skin from one mouse onto another. I was told we were going to “sacrifice” two mice and I was not quite sure what that meant. I quickly learned that it meant killing the mice, usually by pinching the neck of the mice while tugging on the tail.

By the end of the day, two mice were dead and two more were bandaged and limping because of us. For the rest of that week, we photographed the mice, onto which we had transplanted the skin and I was unsure how the photographs we had gathered so far would contribute to our overall experiment–studying the effect of liposomal Wnt3a (L-Wnt3a), a growth factor, on the success of a skin graft.

Now, I am not an animal rights activist in the sense that I would not protest outside medical research institutes, but watching the mice die got to me. On the seventh day after the first surgeries, we needed to sacrifice the mice again–only this time we used a different method. These mice had been grafted on so we could not pull on the tail because it would tear the tissue, so the mice were decapitated using a blade. We had killed a total of 4 mice, and we had minimal results. The following week we sectioned the skin we had harvested from the surgeries and began different stains. As I began a series of stains and learned what each indicated, I began to understand where we were headed and why mice were used. We needed an in vivo mouse model to simulate the effect L-Wnt3a would have in a live human.

Following several stains, we observed that L-Wnt3a does, in fact, increase cell survival and proliferation, and may have the potential to help people around the world. Now, I understand how invaluable and vital mice are to medicine, as long as they are being used thoughtfully. I came to realize “sacrifice” on a new level.

Hera Nalbandian submitted these two videos as part of the program’s social media cirriculum:

Hera Nalbandian