CIRM Creativity Student Cindy Nguyen Goes “Beyond the Classroom”

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California as part of our annual Creativity Program. We asked those students to share their experiences through blog posts and videos.

Today in our final installment, we hear from Cindy Nguyen, who has been busy at Stanford University’s Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine.

Beyond the Classroom

Cindy Nguyen

“And these are human induced pluripotent stem cells.”

I stood in awe. It was my first day in the lab, and I could not believe what I was seeing for the first time. I remembered reading about these “inner healers” in AP Biology class just a year ago and thinking about the endless possibilities of research that these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) could lead to. In a small classroom miles away from Stanford University, the existence of iPSCs seemed surreal and inaccessible. However, here I was standing before these cells, as one of the post-doctoral fellows of my lab was culturing them while describing their purpose.

Picking colonies at the bench.

Picking colonies at the bench.

One of the projects of my lab involves differentiating iPSCs into beating cardiomyocytes. It is almost unbelievable that fibroblasts could have their “biological clocks” rewounded and then be differentiated into pulsing heart cells so easily. I was reminded yet again of the incredible power of scientific research and all the open questions left to answer about iPSCs.

Spending the summer at a research laboratory at Stanford has given me the opportunity to become involved in life-changing research with access to everything I could ever need to conduct an investigation. Ranging from the thermal cycler to pipettes, all these commodities would be considered rare specialties in a high school biology classroom. I feel especially grateful to have the opportunity not only to conduct cutting-edge research in a lab on one of the most prestigious campuses in the country but also to learn about the world of research at my age.

Performing my first immunohistochemistry stain!

Performing my first immunohistochemistry stain!

Just a few months before, I had felt unsure about my future prospects. I did not have the chance to explore what having a career in science really meant. My family had a very little idea of what research was like and was not sure if this would be a rewarding career. However, after this summer’s incredible internship, I am confident in diving into biological sciences in the future. This position has given me the opportunity to show my family the great work that scientific researchers do every day and how rewarding it can be. The ambiguity of lab research has dissolved, and my future choices seems that much clearer.

Stem Cell Stories that Caught our Eye: “Let it Grow” Goes Viral, Stroke Pilot Study, The Bowels of Human Stem Cells, Tumor ‘Safety Lock.’

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.

“Let it Grow” Goes Viral (and National!): Last week on The Stem Cellar we shared one of our favorite student videos from our annual Creativity Program. The video, a parody of the hit song from the movie Frozen, highlighted the outstanding creativity of a group of high school students from City of Hope in Los Angeles. And now, the song has made a splash nationwide—with coverage from ABC 7 Bay Area and even NBC New York!

Students from the City of Hope practice their routine for the group video

Students from the City of Hope practice their routine for the group video

Watch the full video on our YouTube page.

Stroke Pilot Study Shows Promise. Researchers at Imperial College London are currently testing whether stem cells extracted from a patient’s bone marrow can reverse the after effects of a stroke.

Reporting in this week’s Stem Cells Translational Medicine the team, lead by Dr. Soma Banjeree, describe their pilot study in which they collect a type of bone marrow stem cells called CD34+ cells. These cells can give rise to cells that make up the blood and the blood vessel lining. Earlier research suggested that treating stroke victims with these cells can improve recovery after a stroke—not because they replace the brain cells lost during a stroke, but because they release a chemical that triggers brain cells to grow. So the team decided to take the next step with a pilot study of five individuals.

As reported in a recent news release, this initial pilot study was only designed to test the safety of the procedure. But in a surprising twist, all patients in the study also showed significant improvement over a period of six months post-treatment. Even more astonishing, three of the patients (who had suffered one of the most severe forms of stroke) were living assistance-free. But since the first six months after injury is a time when many patients see improved function, these results need to be tested in a controlled trial where not all patients receive the cells

Immediate next steps include using advancing imaging techniques to more closely monitor what exactly happens in the brain after the patients are treated.

Want to learn more about using stem cells to treat stroke? Check out our Stroke Fact Sheet.

Deep in the Bowels of Stem Cell Behavior. Another research advance from UK scientists—this time at Queen Mary University of London researchers—announces important new insight into the behavior of adult stem cells that reside in the human gastro-intestinal tract (which includes the stomach and intestines). As described in a news release, this study, which examined the stem cells in the bowels of healthy individuals, as well as cells from early-stage tumors, points to key differences in their behaviors. The results, published this week in the journal Cell Reports, point to a potential link between stem cell behavior and the development of some forms of cancer.

By measuring the timing and frequency of mutations as they occur over time in aging stem cells, the research team, led by senior author Dr. Trevor Graham, found a key difference in stem cell behaviors between healthy individuals, and those with tumors.

In the healthy bowel, there is a relative stasis in the number of stem cells at any given time. But in cancer, that delicate balance—called a ‘stem cell niche’—appears to get thrown out of whack. There appears to be an increased number of cells, paired with more intense competition. And while these results are preliminary, they mark the first time this complex stem cell behavior has been studied in humans. According to Graham:

“Unearthing how stem cells behave within the human bowel is a big step forward for stem cell research. We now want to use the methods developed in this study to understand how stem cells behave inside bowel cancer, so we can increase our understanding of how bowel cancer grows. This will hopefully shed more light on how we can prevent bowel cancer—the fourth most common cancer in the UK.”

Finding the ‘Safety Lock’ Against Tumor Growth. It’s one of the greatest risks when transplanting stem cells: the possibility that the transplanted cells will grow out of control and form tumors.

But now, scientists from Keio University School of Medicine in Japan have devised an ingenious method that could negate this risk.

Reporting in the latest issue of Cell Transplantation and summarized in a news release, Dr. Masaya Nakamura and his team describe how they transplanted stem cells into the spinal columns of laboratory mice.

And here’s where they switched things up. During the transplantation itself, all mice were receiving immunosuppressant drugs. But then they halted the immunosuppressants in half the mice post-transplantation.

Withdrawing the drugs post-transplantation, according to the team’s findings, had the interesting effect of eliminating the tumor risk, as compared to the group who remained on the drugs. Confirmed with bioluminescent imaging that tracked the implanted cells in both sets of mice, these findings suggest that it in fact may be possible to finely tweak the body’s immune response after stem-cell transplantation.

Want to learn more about stem cells and tumor risk? Check out this recent video from CIRM Grantee Dr. Paul Knoepfler: Paul Knoepfler Talks About the Tendency of Embryonic Stem Cells to Form Tumors.

CIRM Creativity Student Hanan Sinada’s ‘Extraordinary’ Journey as a Budding Scientist

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California as part of our annual Creativity Program. We asked those students to share their experiences through blog posts and videos.

Today, we hear from Hanan Sinada, who has been busy at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.

Extraordinary. That is the word I would use to describe my time here at Gladstone. This summer I have been an intern at the Gladstone Institute of Neurology, studying microglia. The brain has two main types of cells. Those cells are neurons and glial cells. Glia makes ninety percent of the cells in your brain. Although the word “glia” is derived from the Greek word meaning “glue”, glia cells are more like the support system that surround the neurons in the brain. Many people have not heard of glial cells because they are the dark matter of the brain and not involved in synaptic transition. However, glial cells have many significant functions in the central nervous system (CNS). Their main functions are to supply oxygen and nutrients to the neurons, hold neurons in place, destroy infectious agents, eliminate dead cells, and provide insulation (myelin) to neurons.

Hanan Sinada with her mentor, Gladstone Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Grietje Krabbe

Hanan Sinada with her mentor, Gladstone Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Grietje Krabbe

There are three main types of glial cells: microglia, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. In my research we focus specifically on microglial cells. Microglia only make up 10-15 percent of the total glia population. Microglia serve as the central nervous system’s macrophages. One function of microglia is to act as antigen presenting cells. Two other roles of the microglia are phagocytosis and cytotoxicity. In cytotoxicity, microglia release cytotoxic substances such as Nitric Oxide (NO) or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), to damage neurons that have been infected. This leads to cell death. Microglia’s main function is to maintain homeostasis. As a result, microglia are constantly scavenging for apoptotic cells, infectious agents, or any foreign material. Microglia are the main orchestrators of the inflammatory response in the central nervous system (CNS). When an injury occurs in the spinal cord or the brain, microglia release cytokines that cause inflammation in that given area.

In my research we look closely at microglia because they are related to many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. My lab started to question about what would happen if we annihilated all the microglia in the brain. Would it decrease the possibility of avoiding the development of those diseases? So we gave wild type mice a drug that depleted all the microglia in the brain, and surprisingly enough the microglia repopulated the brain rapidly after a couple of days. By doing immunohistochemistry and using certain markers, I was able to find where this new microglia-like cell was coming from. From previous studies we already know that this new microglia is not from the periphery. Monocytes cannot cross the blood brain barrier to replace the microglia. We believe that this new microglia is coming from progenitor cell (a type of stem cell). However, we do not know which cell type is giving rise to this new microglia population.

Before starting my internship I did not know that it was going to be the most amazing and interesting learning experience I have ever had in my life. Although every now and then I would have a science crisis, such as having to change antibody because a certain staining would not work, I am so happy and lucky to be doing this cutting edge research. Not only did I learn so much but I am proud to say that I have contributed to the future of science.

Creativity Program Students Reach New Heights with Stem Cell-Themed Rendition of “Let it Go”

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California as part of our annual Creativity Program. We asked those students to share their experiences through blog posts, photos and videos.

Today, we bring you an outstanding group video from CIRM Interns at City of Hope in Los Angeles, with their own special version of the popular song, “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen.

These students have without a doubt showcased their extensive scientific knowledge in one of the most creative ways we at CIRM have ever seen!

Without further ado, we present “Let it Grow.”

CIRM Creativity Program: Interns Document their Experiences, One Photo at a Time

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California as part of our annual Creativity Program. We asked those students to share their experiences through blog posts, videos and on Instagram.

Today, we take a look at some of the top Instagram photos from our students. Want to take a peak at the rest? Search for the #CIRMCreativityLab hashtag on your Instagram app!

Megan Handley, a Creativity student in the Denise Montell lab at UCSB, snapped this image of a Drosophila ovariole(egg string) taken in fluorescence microscopy. The blue is DAPI(stains nucleus, and the green is anti-HTs(stains membranes).

Megan Handley, a Creativity student in the Denise Montell lab at UCSB, snapped this image of a Drosophila ovariole(egg string) taken in fluorescence microscopy. The blue is DAPI(stains nucleus, and the green is anti-HTs(stains membranes). [Credit: Megan Handley]

Students from the City of Hope practice their routine for the group video

Students from the City of Hope practice their routine for the group video[Credit: Grace Lo]

Emma Cruisenberry, an intern in the Rothman Lab at UCSB, snapped these two photos C. elegans—the top under normal conditions, versus C. elegans expressing the GFP marker under UV light in the intestinal cells. [Credit: Emma Cruisenberry]

Emma Cruisenberry, an intern in the Rothman Lab at UCSB, snapped these two photos C. elegans—the top under normal conditions, versus C. elegans expressing the GFP marker under UV light in the intestinal cells. [Credit: Emma Cruisenberry]

CIRM Creativity Student Long Nguyen Learns First-Hand about the Value of Scientific Research

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California as part of our annual Creativity Program. We asked those students to share their experiences through blog posts and videos.

Today, we hear from Long Nguyen, who has been busy at Stanford University’s Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine.

Summer Reflections

Long Nguyen

It’s been a real pleasure spending the past eight weeks here at Stanford University. When I first walked into Beckman Center on June 9th, I did not know what to expect. There was a crowd of students all waiting, just as I was. I got my lab coat, my notebooks, and my bag. Frankly, I was anxious beyond imagination. At the time, I was still wondering to myself: “How did I get into this program? It’s inexplicable.” Those thoughts vanished as I stepped out of that room three hours later and headed to my workplace. I was confident and ready to start the new experience.

The beloved hood upon which I daringly cultured my cells!

The beloved hood upon which I daringly cultured my cells!

Learning about stem cells has made me more passionate about scientific research. I am glad to have been given this opportunity. Up to this point, I had only been exposed to textbooks upon textbooks—a dull methodology, as many may agree. The only hands-on experience I ever had were agarose gel electrophoresis and transformation of bacteria with an insulin-GFP reporter complex.

My experience here, however, has given me a strong foundation beyond the scope of these. Initially, I could not open a conical tube with one hand, and my pipetting was absolutely horrendous. I could not calculate simple dilutions for my working solutions. I even made the mistake of vacuum-aspirating over half of my cells during the second week. As time progressed, my culturing of stem cells improved considerably and I made few, if no, mistakes. I learned the background, the methodology, and the purpose of my work. These little details proved more important than they seemed, as they gave me a much clearer understanding of my work. Looking back, despite many, many errors, I learned to appreciate the value of science.

An interesting moment before a media change.

An interesting moment before a media change.

Prior to my experience, I had known little about stem cells: they were mentioned briefly in a page of my AP Biology textbook. I only knew that they differentiated into specific cell types to repair the body; there was no mention of iPSCs in the slightest. My knowledge of stem cells now is much more extensive. Regenerative medicine, wound healing, disease treatments—all that can be possible with stem cell research surprised me, to say the least. I have no doubts that this developing field will be a major game changer in the coming decades. The research is definitely something to respect. Being a part of ongoing research made me more aware of the problems that scientists, especially those in medicine, face in their attempts to do something, whether it be to cure scleroderma, to repair damaged neural connections, or to screen drugs with iPSC-derived cells. One thing is for sure: what I do now and what I expose myself to will be critical once I start planning for my future. Thanks go to Stanford’s faculty, SIMR 2014, CIRM, my peers, and my family, all of whom have supported me in my work.

My dear cells!

My dear cells!

CIRM Creativity Program: Training Tomorrow’s Stem Cell Scientists

It’s that time of year once again, when some of the brightest and most motivated high school students across California are given the opportunity to see first-hand what it’s like to perform cutting-edge stem cell research.

Scott Voulgaris, 2014 CIRM Creativity Lab Student

Scott Voulgaris, 2014 CIRM Creativity Lab Student

Called the CIRM Creativity Day Program, this is a fundamental part of our mission to train the next generation of Californian stem cell scientists. Scientists who we hope will one day advance stem cell-based therapies that relieve human suffering from chronic disease and injury.

Offered to high-caliber students of all backgrounds, one of the program’s main goals is to give those who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge biomedical research a taste of what it is like. The eight-to-ten week internship culminates with Creativity Day, an all-day event where each student showcases the results of his or her research project to senior scientists and CIRM staff.

But simply awarding these internships is not enough—just as important is communicating their value to you: policymakers, patient advocates and the public.

So who better to give an inside look into these internships than the students themselves?

Throughout the summer, students will write, photograph and/or film their experiences. You can follow along right here on the CIRM blog as we select occasional posts to share. The students are also already sharing their experiences on Instagram—log in and check out the official hashtag: #CIRMCreativityLab as they document their research progress.

And some students are busily filming creative, fun and informative videos documenting their experiences. When those are complete you’ll be able to view and share them right here on our blog! Want to see what kind of videos last year’s students created? Check out our compilation from 2013.

So stay tuned in the coming days and weeks as we discover up close and personal what it’s like to be a stem-cell scientist and to see the faces of the next generation of researchers who could one day change the world.

Through their lens: high school student ponders regenerative medicine and athletic fame

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.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Nikolas Victoria submitted this photo of his life in the lab to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed. He did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Thomas Weimbs at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The world of regenerative medicine is rapidly advancing, and new opportunities for a person’s life to change through it will soon become more common. This rapid development will have various effects on all aspects of culture, including the world of sports. In sports only a select few attain a certain level of fame. There are many facets that contribute to the accumulation of fame. One of the most significant facets of fame is a player’s appearance time. The more time a player is out on the floor or on the field, the more likely he or she is to get famous. With the recent progress in regenerative medicine, players with injuries (not necessarily a broken bone or torn muscle), that may have kept them out of the game for a season or for their whole career have the chance to get back on the floor. This allows them more appearance time and in turn more fame and more opportunity to procure fame.

Regenerative medicine can also bring a non-performance-based form of fame to a player. The procedure of getting a new organ, or having some regenerative medicinetype treatment, can also bring attention to a player. If a player was out for the rest of his or her life, but suddenly was back in a few weeks or months because of regenerative medicine. Or an older player who was player who was planning to retire because of his heart, gets a new younger, better heart. There would be a major story on the player and surrounding the the players career. There would likely be a fan base who support the player’s perseverance and new hope. Conversely, there would also be groups who disagree with the means by which the player returned, arguing that the procedure may give the player an advantage over others. Both forms of attention, despite their opposing natures, contribute to the fame of the person. Not all of it may be positive, but it can still bring public exposure to that player.

This brings me to the the idea of performance enhancing procedures. Could it be possible to use stem cell research and regenerative medicine to increase a players skill? There would likely be controversy over whether players who receive certain transplantations have more skill, strength, or endurance than they had before. Negative fame could at times act against a player if there is no positive force to counter it. The player could be rejected and lose everything. However, in the end, I think the use of regenerative medicine in relation to the sports world, would likely create more fame than it would destroy.

Nikolas Victoria

Nikolas sent us this video of his experience:

Through their lens: Ami Thakrar considers the result if modern biotechnololgy had tackled yellow fever

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.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Ami Thakrar submitted this photo of herself working in the lab to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed. She did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Joel Rothman at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Between 1840 and 1860, yellow fever was able to make a lasting impact on the antebellum American south. Yellow fever is a viral flavivirus transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Additionally, yellow fever is an RNA virus. In this case, the virion RNA is single-stranded and functions just like mRNA. Upon the infection of the host cell, this mRNA is immediately translated and replicated. As a tropical disease unable to survive in temperatures lower than fifty degrees Fahrenheit, it made its way from the Caribbean into the port cities of the American South in the summer months. The fever severely impacted the Southern economy. The first reason for the decline of the Southern economy is that, according to various articles from the time period, immigrants were more likely to catch the disease than their native Southern counterparts. As a result, more immigrants, out of fear of the yellow fever, chose to move to the North. The influx of immigrants was able to create a more productive economy in the North. Meanwhile, in the South, in addition to the lack of immigrants present on account of the virus, the prevalence of the yellow fever resulted in the deserting of towns in an attempt to escape infection, and thus the closing of shops, which led to a decline in the overall Southern economy. As a result, potential investors saw the South in a negative light, and chose instead to invest their money into the North.

My primary research project this summer was identifying if the gene CED-4, a gene essential to programmed cell death, would also play a role in the process of embryogenesis in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. I also aimed to determine which genes, if any, worked in conjunction with ced-4 in embryogenesis. I was able to knock down the function of different genes in normal as well as in ced-4 deficient worms in order to observe the role of that gene in embryogenesis. This was done by conducting RNA-interference based screens. The introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) through bacterial feeding leads to the disabling of a specific, targeted mRNA. The dsRNA interferes with the natural process of the mRNA, which now is unable to create the protein for which it codes, thus knocking down the function of the target gene.

Had RNA-interference by means of bacterial feeding been present and applicable to humans in the American south in the 1800’s, it could have disabled the mRNA of the yellow fever virus, knocking down its function in the host cells. This would have prevented the spread of yellow fever, and prevented the severe depopulation of port cities, such as New Orleans, that occurred due to the exposure to yellow fever. This prevention of the yellow fever would have dramatically changed the course of our American history. One potential outcome of an elimination of the yellow fever is that the Southern economy would have been much stronger economically when entering the Civil War, which could have been enough of a factor to result in a Southern victory in the American Civil War. Had this been the case, slavery and racism would have been prevalent much longer in America, if not still prevalent in society today. Another potential outcome of the eradication of yellow fever is that the South would have received a large number of immigrants, instead of the North. This would have led to industrialization, as with immigrants, the South would have enough labor force, means of developing new technology, and would draw in more investors for capital to industrialize. If the South had industrialized it could also have changed the outcome of the Civil War.

In conclusion, if RNA-interference had been utilized to knock down the function of the viral mRNA in yellow-fever-infected cells, it would have radically changed the course of American history. The evidence shows that the eradication of yellow fever in the antebellum American South would have resulted in an economically strong South, which could have led to a Southern victory in the Civil War. Had the South won the Civil War, it may have had a negative impact on our country as a whole. Our lives today would have been entirely different in terms of the options available for immigrants and African-Americans; racism would have been more widely accepted in society, as well.

Ami Thakrar

Ami sent us these videos of her experience

Through their lens: On sports and 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.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Emerson Pizzinat did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Thomas Weimbs at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Professional athletes are some of the most revered figures in our society today. While this probably should not be the case people take a fascination in what their favorite player is doing, wearing, and saying. Some people even develop an obsession over a certain player. For the players this is good as the larger their fan base the more jerseys and other memorabilia are sold. A players performance what they look like, where they play, are a few examples of what can add or detract from their fame and ultimately their salary. For example if a baseball player lives in a big city like New York and hits a lot of home runs then this player will have a larger fan base and most likely have a large salary. However what happens when this player gets hurt? Will he maintain his salary and fame or will it shrink?

In order to make sure he doesn’t lose these the player needs to get back as quickly as possible. How does he do this? Stem cells. If the cause for the absence of play is an injury to his body then this could be a viable option in the future. This would be a new frontier in the sports medicine world. Stem cells rejuvenating and repairing qualities would make it a good option to decrease the time spent recovering from injuries. As stem cells have the potential to turn into a variety of specialized cells they could be used to help repair a torn ACL or a pulled muscle. While at the moment this kind of treatment would be expensive with more research prices should drop as better ways for harvesting stem cells develop.

However like most good intentioned ideas this could be used by people who have different aims. Doping has become a major problem in the sporting world today with the most evident cases being in cycling and baseball. So who’s to say that “stem cell doping” won’t become a thing. If it increases a player’s performance then someone will not be able to resist the urge. This has been shown in numerous cases and while it benefits the athlete in the short term there are almost always negative consequences in the end.

Emerson Pizzinat