Through their lens: Ann Liu does research so current her questions can’t yet be answered online

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.

Ann Liu worked in the lab of Bruce Torbett at Scripps Research Institute. 

Ann Liu practicing pipetting. She submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection.

It is the summer before my senior year in high school – in my opinion, one of the most important summers of my life. Prepping for college applications, trying to get at least a vague idea of what I want to do for the rest of my life, attempting to answer all these questions of “what is your dream college” and “what do you want to major in” and “do you want to be a doctor”.

This internship has helped me to learn not only more about my interests in the future, but also about stem cells and the process of scientific research. I’ve practiced various techniques, including cell culture, flow cytometry, and DNA purification, and through this practice, I’ve learned that it is important not only to follow procedures carefully and precisely, but also to understand why each step is being performed. I have learned to question my actions – why am I adding this buffer, and what do these three letters mean? What will happen if I incubate the cells for 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes? Is there a reason why I have to keep this protein in the dark?

One of the most interesting and surprising things that I discovered during these past 6 weeks is that sometimes, when I have a question, I can’t find the answer in a paper, a textbook, or even online. The topics that I am learning about in the lab are so new that there is still very little information out there available to the general public; I need to go straight to my mentor or the PI to get my questions answered. There is still so much about stem cells that is yet undiscovered and not understood.

After I finish my internship at the Scripps Research Institute and leave the lab, I hope to take with me a more inquisitive mind and a drive to find more opportunities to continue doing research.

Ann Liu

Ann sent us this video about her experience:

Inspiration and Advocation – how two research champions are spreading the word

Two of our biggest boosters got a bit of a boost themselves today. Paul Knoepfler and Roman Reed have been named as honorees for this year’s Stem Cell Action Awards. It’s a great honor, and a well-deserved one in both cases.

Roman Reed (left) and Paul Knoepfler after Reed was named Stem Cell Person of the Year by Knoepfler on his blog

In a news release announcing the awards, Bernie Siegel, Executive Director of the Genetics Policy Institute, praised the winners saying:

“The work done by this year’s honorees has directly advanced stem cell research through research, funding and advocacy. They are passionate about making change and we are proud to honor their achievements.”

Paul, a stem cell researcher at UC Davis (you can read about his work here) and an avid blogger, is getting the National Advocacy Award for his work in educating patients and the public about stem cell research. That includes writing a stem cell whitepaper in 28 different languages and a book, Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide, due out later this year.

Paul says he sees the award as validation of the idea that scientists can, and indeed should, be advocates too:

“I see educational outreach by stem cell scientists as essential given the rapidly evolving nature of the stem cell arena and exploding public interest. Receiving this award only motivates me to work even harder as both a scientist and advocate. I hope to inspire other stem cell scientists to be more active as advocates too.”

“In my lab we are excited about our work in understanding what makes stem cells tick, how to better use them clinically, and what all of that can teach us about cancer too. Funding from CIRM continues to be instrumental in these efforts. My overall goal is to make safer and more effective stem cell and cancer treatments a reality for patients.”

Roman, an activist for stem cell research funding, is being honored with the Inspiration Award, and anyone who knows Roman knows what an inspiring individual he is. Through his Roman Reed Foundation he has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for stem cell research, and helped create the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act which provides state funding for research into spinal cord injuries.

“It is such a huge honor to win the GPI Inspiration Award. It’s a clear affirmation of the impact that I have given my life to have on the field of stem cell research and cures. It is humbling and appreciated and inspiring me to do even more.”

“It is my goal to help usher in a new age of personalized medicine and a new dawn of cure. The cause of cure is a cause of hope.”

Other Stem Cell Action Award winners are:
Leadership Awards – Denny Sanford and Malin Burnham, philanthropists with the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego
Education Award: Mary Ann Liebert, publisher of biomedical journals including Stem Cells and Development

The awards will be given out at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego on December 5.

kevin mccormack

Through their lens: Sara D’Souza studied the immune reaction from transplanted neural progenitor 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.

Sara D’Souza worked in the lab of Jeanne Loring at Scripps Research Institute. 

Sara D’Souza practicing aseptic technique. She submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection.

Before starting this internship, I had limited knowledge of stem cells. I had only heard that they were unnatural and were all derived from in vitro embryos. Consequently, I was hesitant to work with these stem cells because I didn’t fully understand their potential in the medical world. Throughout the course of the internship I learned how to maintain, characterize, and differentiate stem cells as well as all of the different types and sources that these stem cells come from.

The lab I ended up working in, Dr. Loring’s lab at The Scripps Research Institute, works mostly with human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). I learned a lot about two of the major types of these hPSCs, embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), including how to culture and characterize them. I was amazed that we had the technology make stem cells from adult somatic cells, specifically in our case human dermal fibroblasts, into their pluripotent state by introducing only four transcription factors. I became more interested in the potential of the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC’s) because of the lessened ethical concerns and the potential applications in patient specific medicine.

My specific project was to measure the expression levels of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) as these hPSCs were differentiated into neural progenitor cells (NPCs). I learned a lot about how different factors added to cells can turn on certain signaling pathways and how different cell types require different signals to reach their final mature cell type.

Although differentiation and care of stem cells was difficult, the rewards are huge. I have learned about the potential uses of these cells to treat such problems as neurodegenerative diseases, heart diseases I hope my data will help provide further insights into the behavior of these stem cells. Also, my internship showed me that stem cells have much potential in the graft implantations. Therefore, it is important to understand the immunology of neural cells, cardiac cells, and other clinically relevant cell types in order to take the first step in curing disease. hPSCs have so many unique properties that are still not yet fully elucidated, particularly the immunogenicity of different hPSC derivatives of clinical interest. I am thrilled to have had the experience in helping to answer these key questions, particularly whether these neural stem cells can be successfully transplanted in humans.

My experience of working with stem cells during this internship has greatly influenced my future career ambitions. I knew I was interested in some sort of a career in biological sciences before this internship, but I was not completely sure if I wanted to pursue a career in research or medicine. My involvement in this cutting edge stem cell research and working with wonderful mentors fervent about stem cells has made me more inclined to research science. In fact, I may want to exclusively study stem cells in the future to see how they can be applied to ALS or other neurodegenerative diseases in general. As the field of stem cell research continues to expand I know that my place is among these tremendous leaders in regenerative medicine and cannot thank CIRM enough for funding me and giving me this amazing opportunity.

Sara D’Souza

Sara sent us this video about her experience:

Through their lens: Hannah Dokter says science can be repetitive and unsuccessful, but the end result is worth it

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. 

Hannah Dokter feeding cells that she was passaging. She submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection

Hello CIRM! My name is Hannah Dokter and this year I will be a junior attending Sheldon High School. To start off, I’d like to thank Dr. Nolta and Dr. Bauer for having me in their fantastic program. I’d also like to thank Ahmad and Ben for helping me out in the lab and teaching me everything I know about hESCs. Last and certainly not least, I’d like to thank my wonderful teacher Mr. Brennan for inspiring me to achieve such a goal as this internship.

In the beginning of my internship I filled up so many 384-well qPCR plates and extracted so much RNA I thought I was going to lose my mind. I got a lot of results from different assays I would do for my mentors, but I never really got explanations on what it was all for. Nevertheless, I was enjoying myself and getting a hands-on experience with science.

Recently I asked for more work that could become a poster for the upcoming Creativity poster session. It will be surrounding the change of demethylase expression during the induction of human embryonic stem cells into the definitive endoderm stage. I have also been tagging along on some of the xeno-free/feeder-free projects they have going on here in this lab. I finally got into the hood and into cell culture and I can now say that at the age of a high school student, I could successfully grow and maintain human embryonic stem cells. I currently have two plates of H9 cells on MEFs, four different xeno-free/feeder-free type plates, and two definitive endoderm plates under my watch and care. I feel like I am learning so much and I am SO grateful for having this opportunity. It has truly been a wonderful experience.

I would love to pursue a career similar to what I have witnessed here in this lab. Working with stem cells has been so rewarding and to do it for a living sounds like an awesome way to make a living. Science is so much fun and while research can be repetitive and sometimes unsuccessful, the experiences and knowledge you gain during the experiments is definitely worth it. They always say to try and do something that can not only make you happy but keep you happy; I certainly think science and stem cell research does it for me.

Hannah Doktor