Through their lens: Nikolas Victoria learns the value of communication and collaboration 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.

Nikolas Victoria did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Thomas Weimbs at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Nikolas Victoria submitted this photo of his life in the lab to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

One of the most amazing things about research is the community surrounding it all, and the interactions that occur among people in both related and unrelated fields of research. Everyone has something that they can learn from another person. It seems that there are several instances of the answer to research question being found by viewing the question through a completely different perspective. Communication and interaction is really one of the most important skills of being a researcher. You could be one of the most brilliant scientists of all time, but if you can properly communicate your findings, what is it worth? But this is not just limited to research of science, communication can get a person farther in life than most other skills. Along with this is being able to collaborate with others to work toward a common goal. In my summer research, my goal was to answer a small question in the much larger question of finding a treatment for the disease ADPKD. It may have been a small portion of the overall effort, especially since it was limited to a 5-6 week study, but bit of information can be shared and given to other researchers to further our knowledge. The results I got from my research may have been relatively small, but the feeling of getting actual results, that I created, was worth the all of the tedious repetition of the tests. Its vastly different than high school; in the research lab, you know that your results have some real significance to the real world, and that you are contributing to the cumulative knowledge of the world. Research is not a selfish occupation. You have to be willing to share information and help others. It can also be a very humble occupation, despite some of the glory that occasionally accompanies it. You have to be aware of the possibility of being wrong much of the time. You also have to be aware that major discoveries rarely occur on first time a hypothesis is tested.

Nikolas Victoria

Nikolas sent us this video of his experience:

Through their lens: Mikaela Esquivel worked on a project to improve wound healing

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.

Mikaela Esquivel did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Peter Lorenz at Stanford University.

Mikaela Esquivel submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Collaboration. This is one of the things that stood out to me the most during my internship. I came into the program with a misconception that researchers were very cut throat and were more focused on their individual projects than helping each other. Almost immediately, I realized how very wrong I was. Different people in the lab have expertise in different areas so the brain storming of questions and ideas are ongoing. This, I think is what makes the lab so successful. Instead of one person reinventing the wheel every time, it is a team effort to draw on the vast cumulative knowledge and to continually challenge each other. However, collaborating as part of a research team can also put more pressure on each individual member since the results of their work can affect other researcher’s work. One of the biggest challenges was managing time. It always seemed to be running out! Whether it was a long procedure, or new ideas that lead to new experiments, there was so much going on all the time!

Before I started the program, I had been considering doing medical research because I thought it would be the best way to impact the most people. With one week left in my internship, I now know what actually doing research entails, and I am certain that I want to pursue it as a career. During my time in Dr. Lorenz’s lab at Stanford, my project focused on trying to determine the best method for delivering adipose-derived stem cells that would achieve the best wound healing. But I also had the opportunity to collaborate in other projects my mentor, Dr. Michael Hu, was working on. This worked out really well for me as I was able to learn more techniques than if I had simply worked only on my specific project. It exposed me and was able to learn a breadth of different protocols including cell culture and animal work. As the weeks passed and I spent more time in lab, I became more confident and independent and got to really enjoy my work and the people I worked with. These past weeks have been great… they have given me a closer look at what my life as a medical researcher would be like. Overall, my experience this summer has been amazing and has really helped me decide that I want to have a future is medical research, especially in the field of stem cells. I find this an intriguing area with so much that is still unknown and can’t wait to help demystify it.

Mikaela Esquivel

Mikaela submitted these videos about her experience:

Through their lens: Brian Su worked on a therapy for kidney disease

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 Su did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Thomas Weimbs at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Brian Su submitted this photo of his lab notebook to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

I spent my summer researching Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD), a genetically inherited disorder caused by mutations in the genes PKD-1 and PKD-2 resulting in fluid filled renal cysts that lead to renal failure in half of patients over 50. I was investigating a possible drug delivery mechanism for a treatment for ADPKD, which currently is only treatable by kidney transplant or lifelong dialysis. The drug delivery method was to use dimeric IgA to bind to polymeric immunoglobulin receptors (pIgR) on the basolateral surface of kidney epithelial cells for transcytosis to the apical surface or renal cysts.

I looked for up-regulation of dimeric IgA and pIgR in untreated cystic kidneys of mice and humans. Up-regulation of dimeric IgA and pIgR would suggest increased levels of transcytosis of IgA. My lab, the Weimbs lab at UCSB, had previously found pIgR to be up-regulated in mice. My research found IgA to be also up-regulated in mice. I confirmed this with beta-actin. I also ran western blots with ADPKD human cyst fluid. When probing for IgA, I found a band higher than dimeric IgA in mice, which was likely secretory IgA. When probing for pIgR, I saw the secretory component of pIgR from when pIgR cleaves at the apical surface. Secretory IgA is dimeric IgA with the secretory component of pIgR still bound to the J-chain. My data strongly suggests that the IgA-pIgR interaction exists in human cystic kidney epithelial cells. It also finds that IgA is up-regulated as well as pIgR in mouse cystic kidney epithelial cells.

My research furthered my lab’s goal of learning more about ADPKD in the search for a treatment or cure. It did this by showing the viability of using the IgA-pIgR interaction to distribute a cyst growth inhibiting drug throughout a renal cyst as a possible method of treatment. It also strongly suggested the existence and up-regulation of the IgA-pIgR interaction in cystic kidneys, which has been less studied than IgA-pIgR interactions in mucosal epithelial cells. While learning lab techniques and developing skills this summer, my research has taken steps to help the 12.5 million people world-wide that have the disease ADPKD.

Brian Su