Through their lens: Erica Keane studies possible ways of applying a stem cell therapy for HIV in third world countries

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.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Erica Keane working in the lab of Ken Kosik at UCSB. She submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection

My secondary project combined these topics and projects:

  • “Stem cells as a model for neurodevelopmental disorders: characterization of patient specific iPSCs which is my research project
  • “Construction of setup for turbulent convection flow visualization” which is D.J. Suto’s research project
  • Pennathur Lab located at UCSB which develop novel bio-analytical devices for third world countries
  • Owl biomedical, which is located in Santa Barbara, is an emerging company that is working to develop microchip-based disposable cell sorting technology

For many years now researchers have been working on new ways to create cheap and reliable handheld devices that can easily be used in third world counties to test for different diseases. Recently researchers, such as Dr. Sumita Pennathur in the UCSB Pennathur lab, have utilized nanofluid channels to develop novel bio-analytical devices for third world countries. Some nanofluid channels short biological material using density. These devices are have the ability to revolutionize bio-analytical devices because they will eliminate laborious optical tagging of sample and inconvenient transportation of sample from rural locations to laboratories for testing. This nanofluid technology combined with the work of OWL biomedical, an emerging company that is working to develop microchip-based disposable cell sorting technology, could create a viable device for HIV testing in third world countries.

Doctors diagnose HIV by testing for antibodies in blood or saliva to the human immunodeficiency virus. These antibodies are proteins that are produced to fight HIV. The proteins that show that a person has HIV could be sorted out of a blood sample using Rayleigh—Benard convection currents and differences in protein density. Rayleigh—Benard convection currents are created by heating the bottom of a cylinder while cooling the top. A convection current is formed when the warm water moves to the top pushing the cool water to the bottom. Once the fluids, in this case a blood sample, are flowing through nano channels on a microchip the HIV antibodies can be shorted using its difference in density.

Once a person is diagnose with HIV their doctor will try to prescribe the correct medicine to control the virus. Then the doctor can take a sample of the patient’s skin cells and send them to a stem cell lab in the United States. This lab could use induced pluripotent stem cell technology for personal regenerative medicine to help treat the patient. At the lab, the skin cells would be introduced to perfect cocktail of transcription factors (discovered by a Japanese scientist named Yamanaka in 2006) which would turn the differentiated skin cells into an undifferentiated state making them induced pluripotent stem cell. These undecided cells could then be genetically reprogrammed to model the virus. After gaining a better understanding of the patient’s specific strand of HIV, the scientist could share their knowledge with the patient’s doctor who could then figure out the best way of treatment.

(Editor’s note: Two CIRM teams led by scientists at Calimmune and City of Hope are developing stem cell-based HIV therapies.)

Erica Keane

Erica sent us this video of her experience:

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