Through their lens: Steven Wang learns about stem cells at the heart of cancer

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.

Steven Wang attends Harker School in San Jose, California. This summer he has interned in the lab of Dr. Peter Lee at City of Hope Medical Center. As an extracurricular, he enjoys playing basketball and baseball.

Steven Wang working in the lab. He submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

When I first applied to this internship, my mind was narrowly focused on cancer and therapies used to treat this disease. I was thrilled at the possibility of working at a comprehensive cancer center over the summer and began to look into labs that had anything to do with cancer research. However, my perspective started to change after conversing and discussing research articles with my principal investigator. He offered a new viewpoint by exposing me to a new theory that combines two almost unrelated elements: cancer research and stem cells. The proposed cancer stem cell hypothesis opened me up to a new view of this topic that explained previously unknown mysteries such as the robust resistance of cancer cells.

Now that I have been exposed to stem cells both theoretically and in the lab, I have come to realize that stem cells can be applied literally anywhere. For example, Karen Aboody, a researcher at City of Hope, is evaluating the efficacy of utilizing neural stem cells for a drug delivery device to eliminate glioma. On the other hand, researchers at the National Institute of Health are investigating the potential use of stem cells to aid transplantations of organs. In my own research, I discovered that stem cell associated genes play an integral role in the development of tumors and utilizing therapies to target these markers may have potential therapeutic impact. I am truly fascinated with stem cells after getting hands-on experience with them and recognizing the applications of these cells in medical sciences.

Steven Wang

Steven submitted this video of his experience:

Hanna Mikkola wins prestigious award for work in unlocking the secrets of blood stem cells

Dr. Hanna Mikkola; Photo courtesy UCLA

It’s always nice when someone whose work you have supported is honored for their achievement, so we were naturally delighted to hear that Dr. Hanna Mikkola from UCLA has been named as the winner of the 2013 McCulloch and Till Award.

The prestigious award, from the Society for Hematology and Stem Cells (ISEH), recognizes a junior scientist in the field of experimental hematology and stem cells who is considered an “outstanding early career investigator.”

Mikkola, who is a member of the UCLA Eli & Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, has received two grants from CIRM . One of those is a New Faculty award to help her better understand the biology of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) – the blood forming cells in the bone marrow – so we can develop better ways of creating those cells outside the body for use in transplantation to treat leukemia. You can read about her CIRM-funded research here.

Mikkola picked up the award this past weekend at the ISEH annual meeting in Vienna, Austria. In a news release from UCLA she said:

“I am extremely honored and humbled to receive this award. It is very gratifying to receive recognition from my fellow scientists that we have advanced stem cell science in the field of experimental hematology. I thank the ISEH membership and will use this recognition as incentive to continue our research with the passion, rigor and focus that has brought us this far.”

Congratulations to Dr. Mikkola, and her entire team, on the award.

Kevin Mccormack

Through their lens: Vanessa Yu is driven by the possibility of improving lives through research

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.

Vanessa Yu is a rising senior at Arcadia High School. This summer, she worked in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology at the City of Hope under Dr. David Ann, with day-to-day guidance from her mentor, Dr. Yong Fu. She assisted her mentor in his project to develop a comprehensive molecular and cellular characterization of the functions, identities, and mechanisms of tumor initiating cells using our genetically engineered mouse model that contains a temporally and spatially inducible K-RasG12V transgene. When she is not in the lab, she enjoys baking, swimming, practicing American Sign Language, and watching entertaining K-dramas!

Vanessa sent us this video of her experience:

When I first heard about the internship opportunity through the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Academy at City of Hope, I was ecstatic. The thought of having the chance to apply my knowledge of science outside the confinements of a classroom was and has been a dream come true. It’s hard to describe my exact reaction when I first received the ding! Email notification of my acceptance email. By my side was my ever supporting family who celebrated in the coming night with cheers and a feast to an exciting summer. My parents, both of whom work in the sciences, expressed their excitement in entering the ‘adult world’ with this opportunity that would bring me into contact with real chemicals, real protocols, and real experiment. Still to this moment, when I glance at the badge draped around my neck, I am awed and forever humbled to be a student in the program. They have given me the confidence that I, a mere high school student, will one day have the ability to someday make my own impact on the medical world.

This summer has been an amazing and eye-opening experience. I’ve never done research in a wet lab before and being able to actually perform experiments that I’ve only ever read in my AP Biology book is simply mind-blowing. It’s not just performing these experiments that I revel in, but the fact that I’m learning so much more than I ever imagined whether it be in reading up on animal cell cultures or researching the contents discussed in a lab meeting. This is what fun really is—getting paid to learn and advance myself, to mature and better the knowledge I have in order to help others. What an opportunity to be in as amazing a place as City of Hope where I am surrounded by peers and experienced mentors who are driven by the same passions I hold dear. It is here where conversations at lunch consist around scientific jargon with the same enthusiasm as if it we were talking about celebrities. The energy and optimism is truly inspirational to see and in the future, I hope to be working fulltime in such an environment that nurtures and stimulates my appetite for science.

The challenges of research are so large and emotionally draining at times that they cloud the bigger, overarching goal. Yes, it’s depressing when I don’t get the desired results from a gel. It’s frustrating when my experiments fail from a careless mistake. However, the hopeful prospect of changing others’ lives for the better and the fact that I do have the power to do that in research is what drives me, and I’m sure others, to keep going despite these obstacles. Furthermore, this summer through the much appreciated support from CIRM, has brought me into contact with the growing research world of stem cells of which the therapeutic potential is immense and exciting beyond words. It is this aspect of science where we are always discovering and finding new opportunities to cure the world of its ailments that ignites my curiosity for learning. And this internship has really shown me in a wonderful journey what I love doing the best—conducting research in the lab!

Vanessa Yu