The stem cell future’s so bright, I have to wear shades

I’m going to date myself here but it’s been nearly 30 years since I first heard that 80’s tune, “The future’s so bright I have to wear shades”. Those catchy lyrics still ring true today, maybe not for bipartisan politics, but at least for the future of stem cell research.

My rosy outlook is based not only on CIRM-funded progress toward stem cell therapies but also on the high caliber of young stem cell scientists who are just now embarking on their careers. Over the past few months we’ve rolled out a “Through Their Lens” social media series to showcase seventy students from forty high schools who did stem cell research summer internships at nine universities throughout California. The programs were supported by CIRM’s Creativity Awards.

We were happily overwhelmed with over 300 social media uploads to our website including blogs, Instagram photos and YouTube videos submitted by the students to describe their life in the lab. The students’ perspectives on stem cell research were creative, thoughtful and often made us LOL (that’s “laugh out loud” for the uninitiated). A “mashup” of their videos is also on our website.

Today we’ve posted a CIRM-produced video shown above that serves as an epilogue to this past summer’s internships and provides a sneak peak at these students’ bright futures as stem cell scientists. We filmed on-location interviews with two students, Mark Sun and Jazmin Penado, at their internship labs.

Mark, a 2013 senior at North Hunterdon High School who interned in Irina Conboy’s UC Berkeley lab, was pleasantly surprised with how much hands-on experience he got in the lab:

I thought that I was only going to be shadowing other researchers while they conduct experiments but I actually got carry out some experiments on my own…I’m actually working on something that’s in the process of being patented so I can’t really talk too much about that, which is exciting. 

Jazmin, a 2014 senior at Balboa High School, interned in Barbara Panning’s lab on UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. Jazmin told us that she really enjoyed running her experiments, especially looking at the results. With family roots from El Salvador, she also saw a broader purpose to her stem cell science pursuits:

Being from the Latin culture I would help my community by being a role model and being someone to look up to. 

At the end of the summer, we brought our video camera to the 2013 Creativity Awards Poster Day in downtown San Francisco where (nearly) all 70 interns celebrated their accomplishment and presented posters of their research results to their lab mentors, program directors, CIRM staff and proud family members. It was a gratifying moment for CIRM Science Officer Mani Vessal who is the program director of the CIRM Creativity Awards for the agency. Looking out at the lively discussions during the poster session, Dr. Vessal had nothing but praise for these students:

It’s an honor to be involved in such a program, to be able to see them flourish. With such a little opportunity they take it and run…This is part of the mission of the institute: to train the next generation of stem cell scientists. 

Over the course of the three-year CIRM Creativity Awards program, our agency will have supported 220 high school students in stem cell research internships.

And speaking of internships, here at CIRM headquarters we’re very grateful for and impressed with our own very talented intern Eli Levine, a 2012 BA in Cinema Production (magna cum laude) from San Francisco State University, who did a terrific job editing this video.

Yep, it’s time to reach for those sunglasses.

Todd Dubnicoff

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