Through their lens: Ami Thakrar finds a career path 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.

Ami Thakrar did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Joel Rothman at the  University of California, Santa Barbara.

Thakrar working in the lab. She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Today was officially last day of my summer internship. It feels like the time has gone by too quickly! I’m fairly certain that I’ll be experiencing “lab withdrawals” soon; I’ve honestly spent more time in the lab these past few weeks than I have at home. But I’ve liked it. No, I’ve loved it!

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work in the Rothman lab at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) studying embryogenesis in the nematode C. elegans. Before I began this summer internship, I did not have much knowledge about working in a research laboratory. When I first started working in the lab, my mentor supervised my lab partner and I very closely (for good reason), often having to interject with a “don’t forget to sanitize the tip of your pipet!” or a “make sure your samples are in the correct incubator!” However, I would say that by my second or third week in the lab, I had reached a high level of proficiency in the procedures of my experiment, which was quite exciting for me. I do not know very many other high school students, besides my fellow CIRM-intern peers, of course, that can say that they’ve worked in, let alone have become comfortable in, a real laboratory environment.

Additionally, it was amazing for me to actually get to have the chance to actually apply all of the knowledge that I had learned in my biology classes. In high school, it often feels like answers are spoon-fed to students, who then regurgitate the information for a test, and proceed to forget it immediately after setting foot outside of the classroom. In research, however, this is definitely not the case. We had to utilize critical thinking skills to analyze data and arrive at our own conclusions. It was scary, but at the same time exciting, knowing that there was no answer-key with which to check our work like there would be in a typical high school setting.

Overall, my experience in the lab over these past five weeks has made it clear that a career in science, specifically biological research, is the path for me. I think it would be safe to say that spending my summer as a CIRM-funded intern was one of, if not the most, enriching high school experiences I have ever had, and it opened my eyes to all of the different possibilities that exist in scientific research.

Ami Thakrar

Ami sent us these videos of her experience

Through their lens: Christina Bui tries to understand how a protein guides new neural stem cells

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 Bui did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Theo Palmer at Stanford University.

Christina Bui submitted this photo showing data produced during her internship to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Hi everyone!

My name is Christina Bui, and I am a rising senior at Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose. This summer, I am doing a research internship at Stanford through the SIMR (Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research) Program, and I’m working in the Theo Palmer Lab (Department of Neurosurgery).

The project that I am working on with my mentor and two other lab members this summer focuses on a candidate protein called MFG-E8. We are studying MFG-E8 because it is very important in many physiological functions, like alleviating inflammation and maintaining healthy tissue. Since MFG-E8 is limited only to the area where new neurons are born during adulthood, we decided to see if MFG-E8 plays a role in regulating what cell types that neural stem cells differentiate into. We hypothesized that MFG-E8 affects the differentiation of neural stem cells and that MFG-E8 helps neuronal development.

To test the hypothesis, we extracted neural stem cells from the hippocampi (where neurogenesis occurs) of wild type (has MFG-E8) and knockout (does not have MFG-E8) mice, and did immunohistochemistry on the cells. We stained for certain antibodies to identify whether the stem cells differentiated into neurons. To analyze, we looked at the cells under a fluorescence microscope, and gathered our data from there. In the end, we discovered that our hypothesis was supported.
These past seven weeks, I have learned so much about stem cells and neurology. That’s what I’ve enjoyed the most throughout this internship—just learning about a particular field of science that a normal high school course wouldn’t focus on. Attending lectures, working with my mentor and other lab members, and talking to my fellow Stem Cell Institute members about our times in lab have been some of the best parts of my time at Stanford.

Although my summer internship is coming to an end, I may continue working on a second project on weekends during the school year in the Palmer Lab. I will always look back at this internship as one of the best summers I’ve ever had, and I hope to continue research in the stem cell field.

Christina Bui

Christina sent us these videos of her experience:

Through their lens: Gloria del Rosario Castaneda learns that research is research because there are still unanswered questions

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.

Gloria del Rosario Castaneda did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Fan Yang at Stanford University.

Gloria del Rosario Castaneda with her mentor and other students in the Fan Yang lab. She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

You know you’ve had too much biology when you unconsciously type “genes” instead of “jeans.” Some may say I’ve had too much biology during my CIRM internship this past summer, but I would disagree.

My past summer has been filled with bittersweet realizations, startling discoveries, and gigabytes worth of new knowledge. I have found a new passion: biomedical research. My specific project focuses on the rapid synthesis of monodisperse, biodegradable polymeric microspheres using droplet microfluidics, then studying their potential to encapsulate important therapeutic factors by manipulating the characteristics of the microspheres to achieve different coordinated release profiles that could demonstrate as useful to advance regenerative medicine. I had the opportunity to learn how to culture multipotent human adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells, which were used to determine the bioactivity of released growth factors from the microspheres. The most confusing thing to me about my project is that I actually understand it.

But that is not why I am fascinated by stem cell research nor biomedical research. The more I listened to my mentor and teachers discuss stem cells, regenerative medicine, and the specific impact my project would have, the more I realized that people don’t fully comprehend any of it. That is why it’s called “research,” but even after research becomes bio dogma, we will only get close to completely understanding it, just like a simple logarithm will never reach zero yet go beyond infinity. It’s this desire to touch zero as I my research nears infinite that makes me want to pursue research.
My findings reflect my passion. Some of my findings suggest that I can engineer microspheres of different polymer concentrations to create different release characteristics and accomplish temporal release at variable rates. However, my data for spheres of variable size are inconclusive. In other words, the data doesn’t make sense or demonstrate a clear trend. Although I have worked intimately with my project and it makes sense, I realize I don’t nor will ever understand everything there is to know about the concepts involved in my project.

Now that I am rereading this blog, I am starting to think that I might have had too much biology. I don’t comprehend all of it, but I am getting closer to zero as I near infinity.

Gloria del Rosario Castaneda