Through their lens: Ariel Lowrey learns that research moves slowly

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.

Ariel Lowrey with one of her mentors in Michelle Monje’s lab at Stanford University. She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

This summer I have been working in Michelle Monje’s lab at Stanford. It has been wonderful and I’m very grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to take part in research so early in my life. The research program I am participating in has enormously changed my perspective on stem cell research. When I started I thought that there were only two types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells that existed in certain tissues. After a few lectures, I learned that were stem cells in many more adult tissues than I previously believed, and that there were cells called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that function similarly to embryonic stem cells, but are made by genetically reprogramming adult cells. I also learned about therapies using stem cells that could help improve cancer survival rates and help with childhood diabetes. It was eye opening because before taking part in this internship I never really thought about what stem cells could be used for clinically.

I applied to a medical internship program because I know that I am interested in working in medicine, but I was unsure what part I want to play in the medical field, from being a practicing doctor to being a lab based researcher or something in between. After this internship I am still sure that I want to work in medicine, but I am still not sure where. I really enjoyed doing research, but I don’t see myself doing only research for the rest of my life. I would like to look into what it would be like to be a practicing doctor. I know that if I go to medical school I will be able to continue doing research, so I won’t have to make a final decision for a while.

One thing that I found surprising about working in the lab was the amount of time I spent waiting. There was always a PCR machine or for a gel to finish running. For some reason I expected to be working nonstop from 9‐5 every day and it was actually very nice to find that in reality things don’t work that way. There were some days when I was working constantly and stayed a bit later than I expected and there were days when I only had a few things to do because the next steps were time sensitive, for example when I was doing all the preliminary steps for cloning on a Friday and I couldn’t do transformation (putting vectors with inserted DNA into bacteria) until Monday because I couldn’t come in on Saturday to check the colonies. That said, I know that if I were not an intern I would probably just come in on the weekends to do things; a lot of the other researchers in the lab do.

In all it was a great experience and I’m really happy I decided to apply to research internships this summer.

Ariel Lowrey

Ariel sent us these videos of her experience:

A small bright spot in Egypt: 16-year-old student continues stem cell project

Being an avowed news junky has its down sides. On mornings like today when so much of the New York Times and the SF Chronicle are filled with details of the upheavals in the Middle East, reading multiple newspapers can get a little depressing. So, when I got to work I was shocked and pleased to see this post on The Stem Cell Group on LinkedIn. A 16 year-old student from Egypt is asking for advice on how to move forward his research on using mesenchymal stem cells for liver fibrosis.

For the past few weeks we have been posting the musings of California high school students participating in our Creativity program that placed them in stem cell lab internships (all of their blog entries are here). Those posts from students getting their first glimpse of stem cell research are inspiring. But this morning, after my news fix, I found this simple little post the most inspiring of all.

I hope he gets some good suggestions.

Don Gibbons

Through their lens: Jeffrey Yu works on a cancer therapy, learns that science involves trial and error

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.

Jeffrey Yu pipetting in the Clarke lab at Stanford. He submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed

My name is Jeffrey Yu and I’ve been interning for the past 8 weeks in Clarke Lab at Stanford University, as part of the SIMR program. Coming into this internship, my idea of science was rote memorization and doing “experiments”, which were always pre-made and no different from following an instruction manual. I had an even shallower knowledge of stem cells. Apart from a vague understanding of the controversial embryonic stem cells and it’s regenerative potential, I knew close to nothing. Little did I know, that I was in for a transformative experience.

Expecting to pipette clear liquids into tubes monotonously for eight hours a day, I did just that. That is, until I realized why I was doing the things I did, it all started to make sense. From reading lengthy papers that made my brain hurt, to filling 92 wells in one sitting, this combination of high speed learning and AP biology lab on steroids gave me a heaping plate of what science truly was. I came to realized the methods, purpose, and direction behind every experiment done, the trial and error, the expected and actual outcomes. It was a revelation. Before this experience, science had been nothing but memorizing plant physiology and biological processes. Science to me now, is a persistent yet methodical and intelligently constructed game plan to answering questions about the natural world around us, and this self-discovery was worth the entire experience.

I’ve learn a great deal about stem cells. I would never have imagined how broad, significant, and promising the field of stem cells actually is. Working in a cancer stem cell lab, I was introduced to the idea that through thorough understanding of normal stem cell physiology, we can better identify the cells that are predisposed to oncogenesis. This harmony of the two ideas, opens up such an enormous field of study that has a very promising future. I’m now able to accurately explain to someone what a stem cell is and that there is much more to the field than embryonic stem cells (ESCs), that each organ has distinct stem cells, and for someone to attribute the term stem cell to merely ESCs is naive.

This experience has helped me realize that I want my future to be in biology and medicine, perhaps not research specifically, but a field where I’m surrounded by science. I would like to thank my mentor Shang Cai, P.I. Dr. Michael F. Clarke, and my lab partner Angela Kong for all the instruction, guidance, and support this summer. I’d have to say that this has been one of my most educational and productive summers I’ve ever spent. This real lab experience, with all the techniques and information I’ve picked up, will help me in college and beyond where I will pursue my passion in health and science.

Jeffrey Yu

Jeffrey submitted these videos about his experience: