In an auditorium with 200 high school students CIRM grantee connected with one who is now heading to UCLA to study stem cells

When part of your job is to reach out to the community, share information and perhaps get the people you connect with excited about what they hear, it can be difficult to point to tangible examples of success. One arrived in my email inbox last week.

Tommy Nguyen in front of an image of nerve stem cells

Tommy Nguyen in front of an image of nerve stem cells

Each year for Stem Cell Awareness Day in October we arrange for CIRM grantees and staff to go out to high schools and give guest lecture on stem cell science. Last year we reached more than 3,000 students. Probably no one reached more students than Julie Mangada of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato. She has talked to students at 15 schools in the past year. Another 21 classes have visited the Learning Center she manages at the Buck.

In a wonderful turn of events, Julie’s talk at Piner High School in Santa Rosa last October caused one student in the auditorium to completely change the trajectory of his upcoming college pursuits. He went on to become class valedictorian and in his commencement speech last month mentioned Julie’s talk and his plans to now attend the University of California, Los Angeles for biological engineering and stem cell science.

Someone in the graduation crowd called the Buck Institute after the talk and asked if the student could have a private tour of the stem cell facilities there. That student, Tommy Nguyen, joined Julie at the Buck last week to walk through the many stem cell projects there, several funded by CIRM. In particular, he saw how embryonic stem cells were grown into nerve stem cells that were transplanted into the brains of an animal model of Parkinson’s Disease (in photos).

Julie Mangada shows Tommy where cells would be implanted for Parkinson's Disease.

Julie Mangada shows Tommy where cells would be implanted for Parkinson’s Disease.

We believe getting young people into the stem cell career pipeline early is essential. That is why I conceived and managed the development of a five-unit high school curriculum in 2009 that is freely available at our Stem Cell Education Portal.

This story about Tommy shows early outreach to students can work. And it is fun when a colleague in the field can write as Julie did in her email last week, “I love my job.”

She also conducts tours for the public at the Buck every Thursday from 10:30 to Noon. To reserve a spot, call (415)209-2245.

Don Gibbons

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