Through their lens: Hera Nalbandian learns a new meaning to "sacrifice".

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. 

Hera Nalbandian is a Reseda High School student who is doing a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jill Helms at Stanford University 

The deparaffinization station used to prepare slide-mounted skin graft for analysis.
Submitted to Instagram by Hera Nalbandian.

On my first day in the lab, I observed my mentor transplant skin from one mouse onto another. I was told we were going to “sacrifice” two mice and I was not quite sure what that meant. I quickly learned that it meant killing the mice, usually by pinching the neck of the mice while tugging on the tail.

By the end of the day, two mice were dead and two more were bandaged and limping because of us. For the rest of that week, we photographed the mice, onto which we had transplanted the skin and I was unsure how the photographs we had gathered so far would contribute to our overall experiment–studying the effect of liposomal Wnt3a (L-Wnt3a), a growth factor, on the success of a skin graft.

Now, I am not an animal rights activist in the sense that I would not protest outside medical research institutes, but watching the mice die got to me. On the seventh day after the first surgeries, we needed to sacrifice the mice again–only this time we used a different method. These mice had been grafted on so we could not pull on the tail because it would tear the tissue, so the mice were decapitated using a blade. We had killed a total of 4 mice, and we had minimal results. The following week we sectioned the skin we had harvested from the surgeries and began different stains. As I began a series of stains and learned what each indicated, I began to understand where we were headed and why mice were used. We needed an in vivo mouse model to simulate the effect L-Wnt3a would have in a live human.

Following several stains, we observed that L-Wnt3a does, in fact, increase cell survival and proliferation, and may have the potential to help people around the world. Now, I understand how invaluable and vital mice are to medicine, as long as they are being used thoughtfully. I came to realize “sacrifice” on a new level.

Hera Nalbandian submitted these two videos as part of the program’s social media cirriculum:

Hera Nalbandian

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