Through their lens: Anne McDermott works on better ways of culturing embryonic stem 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.

Anne McDermott did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jan Nolta at the University of California, Davis.

My name is Anna McDermott, and at the beginning of this summer I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Chosen as one of ten creativity students for the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, I spent my summer working at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the UC Davis Medical Center. During these eight weeks I have learned about cell culture, attended a class on stem cells, and gained invaluable experience in the lab.

My focus during this internship was my project, in which I compared various feeder free substrates for possible future ways of culturing human embryonic stem cells. I cultured human embryonic stem cells on four different feeder-free substrates. Embryonic stem cells offer great potential to regenerative medicine. Because of their pluripotency, or ability to differentiate in any cell type in the body, they offer enormous potential to medicine. Embryonic stem cells may one day be able to treat spinal cord injuries, or improve eyesight in patients with macular degeneration. However, before embryonic stem cells can be used to save and improve life, several difficulties must be overcome.

One of the challenges facing the use of embryonic stem cells is the risk of contamination and the variation that results from using animal component containing mediums. Embryonic stem cells are typically grown on live animal cells, mouse embryonic fibroblasts, and are fed with serum containing media. By using feeder-free substrates and xeno-free mediums the risk of contamination with animal virus or prion material can be eliminated. Variability in results from lab to lab will be reduced, and greater expansion of cell lines will be possible.

Although I had researched stem cells while creating my website focused on the current and potential therapies stem cell promise, working in the lab with researchers changed my perspective about stem cell research. Reading information through research provided me with information. However, observing, and working with stem cells provided me with a greater understanding about the science behind stem cells.

During my time at the lab I also witnesses the research being conducted in the lab for various stem cell therapies, from Huntingtons disease to ALS to wound repair. The dedication and passion of these scientists was inspiring. From a young age my father, an opthamologist, instilled an interest in science and medicine. Although I was at first unsure which path I should take to pursue both my passion for both medicine and research, this internship has shown me that through stem cell research I can work to research and develop treatments and cures for diseases, diseases that were before untreatable or incurable. This summer has been an unforgettable and life changing experience.

I would like to thank Whitney Cary, for teaching and inspiring me, Jan Nolta, Nolta lab, Gerhard Bauer, CIRM, and the UC Davis Stem Cell Program. Thanks for an amazing summer!

Anne McDermott

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