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