Through their lens: Charmaine Chan gets a glimpse at her future

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. 

Charmaine Chan worked in the lab of Dr. Robert Ryan, Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute (CHORI)


I enjoyed a lot of aspects of my internship but most of all I enjoyed obtaining lab experience. I’ve always imagined working in a lab but now I get to actually experience it for myself.

It’s been super exciting for me and even now, halfway through my internship, I am still in awe that I am passaging (splitting) cells or making buffer solutions. It was difficult to adapt to certain protocols but with help and guidance from my patient mentors I am now able to get a grasp on how things work in a lab.

The most challenging aspect was being very careful to each and every detail. For example, when doing a Western blot, even loading a little more or less of a sample into the gel can skew the results greatly. This is where basic lab skills such as pipetting are required, and I feel that CHORI has given me a very warm and comfortable environment for learning such skills.

I think I would like to pursue a career in research because it is not only fascinating but also inspiring as I’ve realized along the way just how important research is in our society. Without research, we would not have certain vaccines and knowledge about diseases.

My family thinks that this opportunity has helped me grow a lot not only as a scientist, but also as a person. My family and I are very thankful that such a program exists – it’s very rare that a high school student can be given a chance to work hands-on with professional researchers in a lab, receive great mentorship, and listen to weekly seminars.

I believe that programs such as CHORI are extremely valuable to our society by guiding students in the science field and allowing them to realize their full potentials.

Charmaine Chan

Charmaine sent us these videos about her experience:

Heart rebuilt with stem cells learns to beat again

Mouse heart muscle precursor cells created from embryonic stem cells at the Gladstone Institutes in the lab of Bruce Conklin.

The past few months we have written about two themes emerging in stem cell science: neighborhood matters when you want to get a stem cell to grow up into a functional adult; and the best cell to get the job done is often a “middleman,” a cell that is part of the way down the path from stem cell to functional adult tissue called a precursor cell.

Now a team from the University of Pittsburgh has used cells they describe as multipotential cardiovascular progenitors (MCP) to rebuild a mouse heart. They called them “multipotential” because they could form all three types of cells found in the adult heart. They placed these middleman cells on the scaffold of a mouse heart that was left over after they used chemicals to remove all the living cells. That framework provided the neighborhood necessary to tell the MCPs to become the three different cells in the right places.

The researchers started with a human skin sample and reprogrammed those cells into the iPS type of stem cell. They then used various genetic factors to get them to mature to the point of being MCPs.

The team published the research in Nature Communication and a news website wrote this story from the University’s press release. It quotes the senior researcher, Lei Yang, on both the importance of the middleman cell and the scaffold as a neighborhood:

“This process makes MCPs, which are precursor cells that can further differentiate into three kinds of cells the heart uses, including cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. Nobody has tried using these MCPs for heart regeneration before. It turns out that the heart’s extracellular matrix — the material that is the substrate of heart scaffold — can send signals to guide the MCPs into becoming the specialized cells that are needed for proper heart function.” 

After a few weeks in the lab the heart began to beat, but at a slower rate than either a human or mouse heart, just 40 to 50 beats a minute. Before this technology could be considered for human heart transplants the new heart would need to be made stronger and researchers would need to figure out how to also rebuild the heart’s electrical system that tells the organ to speed up or slow down.

But the team’s immediate goal is to use MCPs and smaller scaffolds to make patches of heart muscle to mend small areas damaged by a heart attack.

Other teams are using stem cells to deliver protein factors to damaged hearts that can signal our body’s naturally occurring healing mechanisms to do a better job. CIRM funds several teams working a mending broken hearts, You can read about that work here.

Don Gibbons

Through their lens: Bryan Ruiz has a once-in-a-lifetime experience with two genes

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. 

Bryan Ruiz worked in the lab of Dr. Qi-Long Ying at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC. 


During this summer, I was in Dr. Ying’s lab at USC that focuses on stem cell research. Prior to this, I had a one-week training course by the Stem Cell CORE program. Here, the people that educated and trained us provided a plethora of knowledge, and were also very enthusiastic. It felt as if I also gained new friendships along with someone I know that I can go to and ask questions relating to science.

Stem cell training was only one of many memories I had in this laboratory experience. During the summer I had two mentors whose research I contributed to. Their research concentrated on two promoter genes in which they believed these two genes contributed to embryonic stem cell (ESC) self-renewal. The two genes are called Tfcp2l1 and Klf2. These two genes were found to be important due to previous publications and microarray data.

To find their function and role in ESC self-renewal, we first had to verify whether or not Klf2 and Tfcp2l1 do contribute to ESC renewal. So we first over-expressed these two genes, then transfected these genes into mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC). The mESC were placed in two different media, one that contained Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), and another one, N2B27, that is serum free.

The conditions in the media were that the media that contained FBS was Leukemia Inhibitory Factor free, and the N2B27 medium was dual inhibitor (2i) free. After that, we conducted assays such as AP staining and immunofluorescence to check whether or not the mESC have become other types of cells (differentiation). Our findings showed that in the FBS and LIF free condition, the over-expressed genes did make the cells undergo self-renewal. On the other hand, in the N2B27 and 2i free condition, the cells only conducted self-renewal if both over-expressed genes were transfected in one cell.

With this data, we can further study these two genes, and how they interact and contribute to signal transduction such as the JAK/STAT3 pathway.

Overall this was probably a once in a lifetime experience. Other than being educational and informative, I feel like I also have had a lot of fun, and gained many new friends. I felt like I have gotten a strong bond with my mentors. Although this summer experience is coming to an end I look forward to continuing my research when the school year begins because of the STAR program.