Through Their Lens: Maya Varma’s First Laboratory Experience a Life-Changing Experience

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. 

Maya Varma worked in the lab of Dr. Gerhard Bauer at the UC Davis Institute of Regenerative Cures. Bauer directs UC Davis’ state-of-the-art Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility.

Maya Varma gained experience this summer working with stem cells in
the very sterile conditions of UC Davis’ Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility.

When I first started my internship eight weeks ago, I had never worked in a laboratory before. I did not know much about stem cells either, besides the brief overview presented in my freshman biology class. But, from the very first day that I walked into the lab, I knew that it would be a life-changing experience for me. In less than a few days, I learned how to pipette and centrifuge solutions in a sterile manner. I witnessed a stem cell-based clinical trial taking place. I was taught how to gown and de-gown appropriately for work in the GMP. To the scientists working here, these are routine procedures that occur daily. But to me, it was the first time that I had ever participated in such laboratory work, and I was fascinated.

Over the next few weeks, I eagerly began work on my project, utilizing the sterile technique that I had been taught. My project is focused on the use of lentiviral vectors to create GMP-grade induced pluripotent stem cells from adult fibroblast cells through upregulation of the four reprogramming factors – OCT4, SOX2, KLf4, and C-Myc. Lentiviral vectors are HIV-based gene delivery vehicles that can integrate DNA into cells. Through HEK-293T producer cell culturing, transfection of necessary plasmids, harvesting of vectors, and transduction into human fibroblasts cells, I was able to successfully create induced pluripotent stem cells.

I was also fortunate enough to attend a stem cell presentation by CIRM science officer Dr. Uta Grieshammer and researcher Dr. Jill Helms at a science museum in San Jose. They outlined the importance of stem cells and their potential in the medical industry in the coming years. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that research takes time and absolute dedication. The researchers that I work with are completely committed to their work, coming into the office daily and working long hours. The high-quality sterile products created in the GMP reflect their patience and enthusiasm for advancing the frontiers of stem cell research. Every day, their research and new discoveries are paving the way.

I greatly enjoyed my internship, and I am extremely sad that it is almost over. I have learned so much about stem cells, and about the groundbreaking research that is currently taking place in this lab. My experiences have helped me to become proficient at sterile lab technique, include cell culturing, transfection and transduction, and qPCR assays. This was definitely a wonderful opportunity for me, and I look forward to continuing lab work and research in the future. I would like to thank the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the UC Davis Institute of Regenerative Cures, Dr. Jan Nolta, the GMP facility researchers, and my mentor, Dr. Gerhard Bauer, for providing me with this wonderful experience that I will always remember as my first stepping stone to becoming a researcher in the future.

Maya submitted two video during her internship. You can watch them here and here

Maya Varma

Maya submitted this video about her experience:

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