Earlier this year, CIRM welcomed many energetic and enthusiastic high school students at the 2022 SPARK Program annual conference in Oakland. The SPARK program is one of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s (CIRM) many programs dedicated to building a diverse and highly-skilled workforce to support the growing regenerative medicine economy right here in California.
At the SPARK conference, a handful of students presented the stem cell research they did over the summer. It was a great opportunity to share their experiences as well as findings to their high school peers.
Just recently, Simran Ovalekar—a 2022 SPARK program intern—had the unique opportunity to share her research and findings with a wider audience, including undergraduate and PhD students at STEM Shadow Day in San Diego. The event aims to provide college prep students from San Diego and Imperial Valley counties with a unique experience to witness the “real world” of work in an engineering or scientific environment.
“At first I was nervous because I understood that I would be presenting not only in front of high school students, but also undergraduates and PhD candidates,” Simran says. “After reviewing my research, I felt solid and excited to present. I absolutely loved working in the lab so I knew all I had to do was be myself and show my enthusiasm.”
During the SPARK summer internship, Simran joined the Sacco Lab to study Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) and how stem cells can be used to provide treatment. DMD is a progressive muscle wasting disorder with life expectancy of approximately age 20. There are around 17,000 people, the vast majority of them boys, diagnosed with DMD in the US.
Dr. Sacco’s lab—which has also received CIRM funding—is researching ways to generate healthy adult muscle stem cells using the patient’s own cells to generate healthy skeletal muscle.
For Simran, conducting research for DMD was personal, as her sister was born with a defect affecting the heart.
“When I began this program, I had a superficial understanding of what a stem cell was. Now, however, I am amazed at the possibilities stem cells provide, and with certainty, can say stem cells are the future of medicine.”
After her presentation at STEM Shadow Day, Simran says she received a positive response from attendees and was reminded why she loves science and of her passion for pursuing a career in stem cell research.
“I am looking forward to continue skeletal stem cell research and am even open to experimenting with other avenues of molecular medicine,” Simran says. “I am eager to have the opportunity to pursue the hands-on research I enjoyed this past summer.”
CIRM has also funded a clinical trial for people with DMD. We blogged about that work and how the impact it is having on some people’s lives.