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:

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