When I was in high school I spent my summers working in a shoe shop and playing soccer with my mates. It never occurred to me that I could do something really worthwhile with that time. So, when I meet the high school students who took part in the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s SPARK program I realized I had wasted a lot of time.
For those not familiar with SPARK, it stands for Summer Program to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge. It’s a summer program offering high school students a chance to work in a world-class stem cell and gene therapy research facility. The quality of the work they do is truly remarkable. By the end of the summer they are doing projects that many full-time researchers would be proud of.
As part of that program the students also must write blogs and post photos and videos to Instagram to chart their progress. The quality of that work is equally impressive. Last week we posted items about the two best blogs from the students. But there were so many other fine entries that we thought it would be worthwhile to highlight elements of those.
For instance, Ricardo Rodriguez at Charles R. Drew University had some interesting observations on life, even when it’s not always working out the way you planned:
“Cancer is not life going wrong so much as it is life changing. If mutation is random, then so is life. That beautiful randomness that drives evolution and extinction, change and stagnation, life and death, and for you to think that that part of your body could be simple in any way, whether it be simply evil, simply inconvenient, simply structured, is simply hilarious. There is beauty in your body’s complexity, adaptability, and resilience, and these attributes are not barred from any part of your life.”
Mindy Rodriguez at Beckman City of Hope says she learned valuable lessons from working with mice, creatures she previously considered scary, dirty and vicious, but later came to like:
“The CIRM SPARK program reinforced the value of facing my fears by exploring the unknown and most importantly taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. In both cases, I found that it is our response to fear that shapes who we are. We can either run away from the thing that scares us or take each moment as a learning opportunity, embracing change over comfort.”
Manvi Ketireddy at UC Davis had a similar experience, learning to accept things not working out.
“A researcher must be persistent and have the ability to endure lots of failures. I think that is what I love about research: the slight possibility of discovery and answers amid constant defeat is one of the greatest challenges to exist. And boy, do I love challenges.”
Ameera Ali at Sanford Burnham Prebys says she had struggled for years to decide on a career direction, but the internship gave her a fresh perspective on it all.
“Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do for a living, and I think that’s because I wanted to do everything. In kindergarten I wanted to be a paleontologist. In 5th grade I wanted to be the CEO of The San Diego Union Tribune, and in 9th grade I wanted to be a physicist at NASA. By 10th grade I was having an existential crisis about what to do with my life, and so began the search for my purpose at the ripe old age of 15.
So now, writing this blog, I never thought I’d end up spending so much of my time in a room filled floor to ceiling with fish tanks. You might be wondering, how does one end up going from physicist to fish farmer? Well, I’m not completely sure to be honest, but it’s been a very fun and interesting experience nonetheless.”
She says by the end she says what initially felt like mundane chores were actually moments worth celebrating.
“These aquatic friends have taught me a lot of valuable life lessons, like being appreciative of the little things in life, caring for others and see things from a different perspective, and realizing that
working in a biology lab allows me to explore my passions, be creative, and be a mother to hundreds of fish children on the side.”
SPARK attracts students from all over California, and it’s that diversity that makes it so important.
My name is Alexa Gastelum and I am from a small border town called Calexico. It is located in the Imperial Valley around two hours away from San Diego. I found out about this Internship from my Math teacher and Mesa Coordinator. They discussed what it was about, and I immediately knew that I wanted to apply. I have always been interested in doing labs and researching so I knew that it would be the perfect opportunity for me. It is not normal to be presented with an opportunity like this from where I’m from because it is a small and low-income town. When I told my family about this internship they were very supportive. They agreed that I needed to apply for it since it was an extremely good opportunity. Even though I would need to spend my summer away from my hometown, they were okay with it because they knew that I could not miss out on the opportunity. I decided to write my personal statement on a disease that hit close to home with my family which was Alzheimer’s. It is a disease that runs in my family and my uncle passed from it. I believe that this is what sparked my interest because I wanted to understand how it worked and how it affects the brain.
At the SPARK event Alexa told me her grandmother was so proud of her for being accepted at the program that she was going around town telling everyone about it. Her grandmother, and all the other grandmothers and mothers and fathers, had every reason to be proud of these students. They are remarkable young people and we look forward to following their careers in the years to come.
Explaining science is hard. Explaining stem cells, which have their very own unique complexities, can be even more of a challenge, especially when communicating with a non-scientific audience.
That’s why when we received this blog submission from a CIRM SPARK Program intern through UCSF’s High School Intern Program (HIP) explaining stem cells in a simple, straightforward way using Legos, we knew we had to share it with our readers.
The first thing to know about stem cells is that there is not just one kind. In fact, there are many different types of stem cells, each with very different potential to treat disease. There are various types of stem cells, including pluripotent, embryonic, adult, and iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cell).
Stem cells also have the potential to become other kinds of cells in the body. For example, embryonic stem cells can become many other kinds of cells, whereas adult stem cells, such as in fat, can only become bone or cartilage.
Now, the fun part! Here’s what the student shared in their prize-winning SPARK Program blog submission.
If someone were to ask me what stem cells are in a simple and perhaps figurative way now, I would say that stem cells are just like Legos. Legos are special building-blocks that are in a blank or default-like state, but can be something greater and unique on its own later on.
Similarly, stem cells are called “unspecialized cells” because they are yet to be “specialized” or become a certain type of cell. They can be a blood, brain, heart, and basically all types of cells respectively, with little to no exceptions. Moreover, not all Legos are built the same. Some can be regular block-shaped, while some can be circular or even triangular. Therefore, this limits Legos’ abilities to a certain degree. Similarly, not all stem cells are necessarily the same.
With just the right amount and type of Legos, you can easily assemble and build a house, a car, or whatever you could possibly think about. Similarly, the possibilities are endless with stem cells as well, which is why it’s truly a promising and key aspect in regenerative medicine today.
Bravo! In addition to creating a unique way of explaining stem cells during their internship, the student also learned how to differentiate the different types and sources of stem cells from one another through hands-on experience at a world-renowned institution.
The student added, “My newly-found interest in regenerative medicine and stem cells is definitely something that I’m looking forward to with great passion and knowledge moving forward.”
To learn more about CIRM’s internship programs, visit our website. To read another prize-winning blog submission from a SPARK intern, click here.
SPARK—also known as theSummer Program to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge—gives high school students a chance to spend their summer working in a world class stem cell research facility here in California. At the end of their internship, they write about their experiences and what they learned.
As always, we received many wonderful submissions from the students, so choosing a winner was particularly tough. In the end we chose two winners. The first blog—which you can read below—was submitted by Saranya Anandakumar, who interned at Sanford Burnham Prebys in La Jolla.
The second winning submission was authored by John Casilao, who interned at UCSF. The blog will also be shared on The Stem Cellar this week.
Check out Saranya’s winning blog submission below and be sure to follow the blog for more updates from CIRM’s SPARK Program.
Submitted by Saranya Anandakumar 2022 SPARK Program Intern at Sanford Burnham Prebys
My whole life I’ve been indecisive, which I think is fair. I mean, think about it. If the multiverse theory is coupled with the butterfly effect then the difference between a vanilla and strawberry ice cream could mean the difference between my continued life or my sudden death.
So if I can’t even choose which cereal to eat in the morning, what in the world makes my counselor think I can decide what career I want to pursue in the future? What’s worse is while an ice cream cone only lasts about ten or fifteen minutes in the beaming hot summer Sun before wasting away, my occupational choice, my major, and my degree, they’ll stay with me forever if not for at least ten or so years. So why not give a six-week free trial a shot? That way of thinking, dear reader, is precisely how I ended up in CIRM’s SPARK Program.
Hi, my name is Saranya Anandakumar. I love oceanography and glaciology as much as I love law and psychiatry, but the medical field has always had a special place in my heart. That’s how I took the first step of applying for this internship.
To give a brief summary, my grandma had a stroke and pneumonia and has been bedridden since because a doctor gave her the incorrect dose of medication (according to medical staff she should have been dead). My mom has struggled with chronic pain, migraines, memory issues, and high blood pressure for years, and my entire family struggles with severe anxiety and depression (plus the occasional eating disorder).
Of course, I have a breathing disorder and struggle with migraines. I also have an extremely weak immune system to the point where I’m ill eight months of the year. Needless to say, emergency room and ICU visits have become the norm, so much that the nurses and I are on a first-name basis.
But, enough about my glamorous history, and more about my experience with the internship. As I established earlier, I am certain about nothing in my life, which is why it should speak volumes to you when I say I now know that I want to major in immunology and minor in neuroscience.
Still, a little voice inside my head cries, “Oh, what if this is the best lab you’ll ever be in?! What if you think the field is better than it really will be?!” A valid concern. I’m sure Dr. Blaho is the only former Trombone player and drum major I will ever work under, and she’s certainly the funniest. I doubt anyone will have the dad jokes Josh does or the endearing laugh and interesting input Yosiris does.
However, my time at Sanford Burnham Prebys still left me with more than that. I loved walking in every day. Every lecture on oligodendrocytes and microglia had me entranced. Every western blot or stem cell experiment left me all giddy inside. Don’t even get me started on looking at human blood under a microscope! It felt like falling in love and the best part was it didn’t matter what it was as long as I was learning something new.
I was always scared of life after college, but I thought it was because I was scared of committing to one career for the rest of my life. And though that was certainly part of it, I think I was afraid of living my life without learning anymore. So bio research is perfect for me because it’s impossible to not learn even if you try.
We had a wonderful time meeting so many energetic and enthusiastic high school students at the 2022 SPARK Program annual conference hosted by UCSF at the MLK Research Building. 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.
Held in-person for the first time since 2019, the event hosted students and program directors from all over California, allowing them the opportunity to share their research through oral and poster presentations. This year, students also attended talks about new approaches to sickle cell disease curative therapies, anti-racism in STEM, and patient advocacy.
The SPARK Program—also known as the Summer Program to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge—provides California high school students with summer research internships at leading stem cell institutes in California. To date, there have been 530 SPARK alumni, and another 110 high school interns are completing their training this summer.
The SPARK program specifically selects students who represent the diversity of California’s population, particularly those who might not otherwise have opportunities to take part in research internships due to socioeconomic constraints.
“I really enjoyed being a part of this program, and I feel like I understand so much better what it’s like to be a researcher,” said Brighton C., a student in the SPARK program at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (pictured below). “I also feel more confident in the subject of stem cells and I might want to dedicate my future to it.”
We’ll be sharing more stories from CIRM’s SPARK Program throughout the year, including blog submissions from students that summarize their summer experiences. Stay tuned for more and be sure to follow CIRM on Instagram, where we will share more photos and fun content created by the students.
There are currently 11 active SPARK programs throughout California, each with its own eligibility criteria and application process. If you are interested in learning more, please visit this web page for more details about each program. If you have questions about CIRM’s education programs, please email Dr. Kelly Shepard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to UCSF for hosting the event, and to all the SPARK program directors for supporting this year’s bright interns!
Check out some of the photos from this year’s SPARK conference below.
This summer, the CIRM team was thrilled to meet the bright scientists taking part in this year’s Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program, which culminated at the 2022 Bridges Trainee Meeting in sunny San Diego.
Started in 2009, the Bridges program provides paid stem cell research internships to students at universities and colleges that don’t have major stem cell research programs. Each Bridges internship includes thorough hands-on training and education in regenerative medicine and stem cell research, and direct patient engagement and outreach activities that engage California’s diverse communities.
To date, there are 1,663 Bridges alumni, and another 109 Bridges trainees are completing their internships in 2022.
In addition to networking with other scientists across the state, the annual Bridges Trainee Meeting provides students the opportunity to share their research in poster presentations and to learn about careers in the regenerative medicine field. This year, students also attended talks about cutting edge science research, anti-racism in STEM, science communication through social media, and patient advocacy.
“As the field advances, we must also meet the demand for promising young scientists,” says Maria T. Millan, M.D., President and CEO of CIRM (pictured below). “The CIRM Bridges programs across the state of California will provide students with the tools and resources to begin their careers in regenerative medicine.”
There are currently 15 active Bridges programs throughout California, each with its own eligibility criteria and application process. If you are interested in applying, please visit this web page for more details about each program. If you have questions about the Bridges program, please email the CIRM Bridges director, Dr. Kelly Shepard at email@example.com.
Finally, a sincere thank you goes to the Bridges Program from California State University, San Marcos for hosting this year’s CIRM Bridges Trainee Meeting!
Check out some of the photos from this year’s conference below.
One of the great pleasures of my job is getting to meet the high school students who take part in our SPARK or Summer Internship to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge program. It’s a summer internship for high school students where they get to spend a couple of months working in a world class stem cell and gene therapy research facility. The students, many of whom go into the program knowing very little about stem cells, blossom and produce work that is quite extraordinary.
One such student is Tan Ieng Huang, who came to the US from China for high school. During her internship at U.C. San Francisco she got to work in the lab of Dr. Arnold Kriegstein. He is the Founding Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California, San Francisco. Not only did she work in his lab, she took the time to do an interview with him about his work and his thoughts on the field.
It’s a fascinating interview and shows the creativity of our SPARK students. You will be seeing many other examples of that creativity in the coming weeks. But for now, enjoy the interview with someone who is a huge presence in the field today, by someone who may well be a huge presence in the not too distant future.
‘a tête-à-tête with Prof. Arnold Kriegstein’
Prof. Arnold Kriegstein is the Founding Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California, San Francisco. Prof. Kriegstein is also the Co-Founder and Scientific Advisor of Neurona Therapeutics which seeks to provide effective and safe cell therapies for chronic brain disorder. A Clinician by training, Prof. Kriegstein has been fascinated by the intricate workings of the human brain. His laboratory focuses on understanding the transcriptional and signaling networks active during brain development, the diversity of neuronal cell types, and their fate potential. For a long time, he has been interested in harnessing this potential for translational and therapeutic intervention.
During my SEP internship I had the opportunity to work in the Kriegstein lab. I was in complete awe. I am fascinated by the brain. During the course of two months, I interacted with Prof. Kriegstein regularly, in lab meetings and found his ideas deeply insightful. Here’s presenting some excerpts from some of our discussions, so that it reaches many more people seeking inspiration!
Tan Ieng Huang (TH): Can you share a little bit about your career journey as a scientist?
Prof. Arnold Kriegstein (AK): I wanted to be a doctor when I was very young, but in high school I started having some hands-on research experience. I just loved working in the lab. From then on, I was thinking of combining those interests and an MD/PhD turned out to be an ideal course for me. That was how I started, and then I became interested in the nervous system. Also, when I was in high school, I spent some time one summer at Rockefeller University working on a project that involved operant conditioning in rodents and I was fascinated by behavior and the role of the brain in learning and memory. That happened early on, and turned into an interest in cortical development and with time, that became my career.
TH: What was your inspiration growing up, what made you take up medicine as a career?
AK: That is a little hard to say, I have an identical twin brother. He and I used to always share activities, do things together. And early on we actually became eagle scouts, sort of a boy scout activity in a way. In order to become an eagle scout without having to go through prior steps, we applied to a special program that the scouts had, which allowed us to shadow physicians in a local hospital. I remember doing that at a very young age. It was a bit ironic, because one of the evenings, they showed us films of eye surgery, and my brother actually fainted when they made an incision in the eye. The reason it makes me laugh now is because my brother became an eye surgeon many years later. But I remember our early experience, we both became very fascinated by medicine and medical research.
TH: What inspired you to start the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research Institute?
AK: My interest in brain development over the years became focused on earlier stages of development and eventually Neurogenesis, you know, how neurons are actually generated during early stages of in utero brain development. In the course of doing that we discovered that the radial glial cells, which have been thought for decades to simply guide neurons as they migrate, turned out to actually be the neural stem cells, they were making the neurons and also guiding them toward the cortex. So, they were really these master cells that had huge importance and are now referred to as neural stem cells. But at that time, it was really before the stem cell field took off. But because we studied neurogenesis, because I made some contributions to understanding how the brain develops from those precursors or progenitor cells, when the field of stem cells developed, it was very simple for me to identify as someone who studied neural stem cells. I became a neural stem cell scientist. I started a neural stem cell program at Columbia University when I was a Professor there and raised 15 million dollars to seed the program and hired new scientists. It was shortly after that I was approached to join UCSF as the founder of a new stem cell program. And it was much broader than the nervous system; it was a program that covered all the different tissues and organ systems.
TH: Can you tell us a little bit about how stem cell research is contributing to the treatment of diseases? How far along are we in terms of treatments?
AK: It’s taken decades, but things are really starting to reach the clinic now. The original work was basic discovery done in research laboratories, now things are moving towards the clinic. It’s a really very exciting time. Initially the promise of stem cell science was called Regenerative medicine, the idea of replacing injured or worn-out tissues or structures with new cells and new tissues, new organs, the form of regeneration was made possible by understanding that there are stem cells that can be tweaked to actually help make new cells and tissues. Very exciting process, but in fact the main progress so far hasn’t been replacing worn out tissues and injured cells, but rather understanding diseases using human based model of disease. That’s largely because of the advent of induced pluripotent stem cells, a way of using stem cells to make neurons or heart cells or liver cells in the laboratory, and study them both in normal conditions during development and in disease states. Those platforms which are relatively easy to make now and are pretty common all over the world allow us to study human cells rather than animal cells, and the hope is that by doing that we will be able to produce conventional drugs and treatments that work much better than ones we had in the past, because they will be tested in actual human cells rather than animal cells.
TH: That is a great progress and we have started using human models because even though there are similarities with animal models, there are still many species-specific differences, right?
AK: Absolutely, in fact, one of the big problems now in Big Pharma, you know the drug companies, is that they invest millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in research programs that are based on successes in treating mice, but patients don’t respond the same way. So the hope is that by starting with a treatment that works on human cells it might be more likely that the treatment will work on human patients.
TH: What are your thoughts on the current challenges and future of stem cell research?
AK: I think this is an absolute revolution in modern medicine, the advent of two things that are happening right now, first the use of induced pluripotent stem cells, the ability to make pluripotent cells from adult tissue or cells from an individual allows us to use models of diseases that I mentioned earlier from actual patients. That’s one major advance. And the other is gene editing, and the combination of gene editing and cell-based discovery science allows us to think of engineering cells in ways that can make them much more effective as a form of cell therapy and those cell therapies have enormous promise. Right now, they are being used to treat cancer, but in the future, they might be able to treat heart attack, dementia, neurodegenerative diseases, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, a huge list of disorders that are untreatable right now or incurable. They might be approached by the combination of cell-based models, cell therapies, and gene editing.
TH: I know there are still some challenges right now, like gene editing has some ethical issues because people don’t know if there can be side effects after the gene editing, what are your thoughts?
AK: You know, like many other technologies there are uncertainties, and there are some issues. Some of the problems are off-target effects, that is you try to make a change in one particular gene, and while doing that you might change other genes in unexpected ways and cause complications. But we are understanding that more and more now and can make much more precise gene editing changes in just individual genes without affecting unanticipated areas of the genome. And then there are also the problems of how to gene-edit cells in a safe way. There are certain viral factors that can be used to introduce the gene editing apparatus into a cell, and sometimes if you are doing that in a patient, you can also have unwanted side effects from the vectors that you are using, often they are modified viral vectors. So, things get complicated very quickly when you start trying to treat patients, but I think these are all tractable problems and I think in time they will all be solved. It will be a terrific, very promising future when it comes to treating patients who are currently untreatable.
TH: Do you have any advice for students who want to get into this field?
AK: Yes, I think it’s actually never been a better time and I am amazed by the technologies that are available now. Gene editing that I mentioned before but also single cell approaches, the use of single cell multiomics revealing gene expression in individual cells, the molecular understanding of how individual cells are formed, how they are shaped, how they change from one stage to another, how they can be forced into different fates. It allows you to envision true Regenerative medicine, improving health by healing or replacing injured or diseased tissues. I think this is becoming possible now, so it’s a very exciting time. Anyone who has an interest in stem cell biology or new ways of treating diseases, should think about getting into a laboratory or a clinical setting. I think this time is more exciting than it’s ever been.
TH: So excited to hear that, because in school we have limited access to the current knowledge, the state-of-art. I want to know what motivates you every day to do Research and contribute to this field?
AK: Well, you know that I have been an MD/PhD, as I mentioned before, in a way, there are two different reward systems at play. In terms of the PhD and the science, it’s the discovery part that is so exciting. Going in every day and thinking that you might learn something that no one has ever known before and have a new insight into a mechanism of how something happens, why it happens. Those kinds of new insights are terrifically satisfying, very exciting. On the MD side, the ability to help patients and improve peoples’ lives is a terrific motivator. I always wanted to do that, was very driven to become a Neurologist and treat both adult and pediatric patients with neurological problems. In the last decade or so, I’ve not been treating patients so much, and have focused on the lab, but we have been moving some of our discoveries from the laboratory into the clinic. We have just started a clinical trial, of a new cell-based therapy for epilepsy in Neurona Therapeutics, which is really exciting. I am hoping it will help the patients but it’s also a chance to actually see something that started out as a project in the laboratory become translated into a therapy for patients, so that’s an achievement that has really combined my two interests, basic science, and clinical medicine. It’s a little late in life but not too late, so I’m very excited about that.
Tan Ieng Huang, Kriegstein Lab, SEP Intern, CIRM Spark Program2022
One of the ways we do this is through our SPARK educational internship program. The SPARK awards—also known as the Summer Program to Accelerate Regenerative medicine Knowledge— support summer research internships for high school students at leading stem cell institutes in California.
While the Bridges internships for undergraduate and master’s graduate students take place year-round, the SPARK internships are currently underway across California and are already providing high school students an invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on training in stem cell research at some of the leading research facilities in the state.
The SPARK program specifically selects students who represent the diversity of California’s population, particularly those who might not otherwise have opportunities to take part in research internships due to socioeconomic constraints.
SPARK students spend the summer learning about stem cells and regenerative medicine and will conduct a six-week research internship in a stem cell lab. At the end of their program, students get to show off their hard work by presenting their research at the SPARK annual conference. Stay tuned for more updates as the program concludes!
In addition to showcasing their research, the bright young scientists are sharing their experience through social media, and we’ve compiled some of their submissions so far. To see more of their social media submissions—plus more updates and news from CIRM—be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Currently, there are 11 active SPARK programs located in Northern and Southern California. Each program has its own application process and way of selecting students for their SPARK program. If you are a student, teacher or family member interested in learning more information about how to apply or when application deadlines are, please visit the CIRM website.
Congratulations to Yasmine Arafa (she/hers), a CIRM Bridges Student Intern at UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures! She recently graduated from California State University-Sacramento, officially concluding her Master’s degree and Fulbright Association journey. She conducted research with the aim of developing new therapeutic approaches for rare diseases.
Yasmine says, “I have finally passed my thesis defense and am now a Master‘s degree holder. People in grad school tend to not celebrate their achievements as much, but I chose to celebrate mine.”
“As a graduate student who started their degree in 2020, it has been a rough journey for me. Coming to a new country on my own, away from my family and loved ones, during a pandemic, has been quite the challenge. I‘m proud of myself and of this achievement, because I know the immense amount of academic and mental effort I had to put in to get to this point. To all graduate students out there, don‘t forget to celebrate your success!”
Congrats, Yasmine! She joins 1,663 CIRM Bridges alumni who are helping build the next generation of scientists and meet CIRM’s mission to #AccelerateWorldClassScience here in California for the world.
One such project—the Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program—helps train future generations of scientists by preparing undergraduate and master’s students from several California universities for careers in stem cell and regenerative medicine research. To date, there have been 1,663 Bridges alumni, and another 109 Bridges trainees are completing their internships in 2022.
Samira Alwahabi, a Bridges scholar and undergraduate student majoring in Biological Sciences at California State University, Fullerton was one of the many participants in last year’s Bridges program. She completed her internship in the Calvin Kuo Lab at Stanford University, which she says was nothing short of incredible.
“Not only was I able to be a part of cutting-edge stem cell research but I also gained incredible mentors and friends within academic medicine, all of whom push me to be the best version of myself,” Samira says.
After completing her internship last year, Samira graduated cum laude with a degree in cell and developmental biology. She is currently working in the Kuo Lab at Stanford University as a lab technician. Her next steps include applying to medical school to become a physician, wherein she will use her research experience to better understand medical innovations that translate into improved quality of care for patients.
“I am eternally grateful to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and California State University, Fullerton for giving me the opportunity to enter the field of biomedical research,” Samira adds. “The ability to discover, experiment, and learn something new every day brought a new excitement to my life, exposing my interest in translational medicine.”
Science is hard. Explaining complex science to non-scientists is SUPER hard. But explaining science to non-native English speakers presents a whole new set of challenges.
I would know. I’m a first-generation immigrant whose highly-educated parents arrived in their new home—the United States—a tad too late to become fluent in its native tongue. I’ve also had the unique experience of participating in a clinical trial using stem cells—a topic which my family still has trouble grasping.
I still remember the day of my accident, which left me paralyzed from the chest down. My mother came into my room to cheerfully tell me that there was “something” that would “help me walk” again. Those “something” were human embryonic stem cells. The “help me walk” part was doctors simply explaining the potential of the treatment. In her frazzled mind, she could hardly understand Farsi, much less English. Being told that I was a candidate to participate in a stem cell trial somehow translated into being cured.
And she kept looking for the magic bullet. Countless internet searches revealed all sorts of clinics and wellness centers that offered a cure to just about any disease imaginable. My mom wondered, “Were these the same stem cells from my daughter’s trial? Maybe they are even better since they are curing so many folks!”
I tried my best to explain but there was always something missing in translation. I found that troubling. The language barrier made it so difficult to make informed decisions. I couldn’t imagine being a non-native English speaker and learning about such a complicated matter in a language I hadn’t yet mastered.
After all, stem cells are a topic that concerns the people of the world, not just certain countries or certain people speaking only in certain languages.
Dr. Paul Knoepfler would know. And not just because the statement comes straight from him. Paul is a stem cell scientist at UC Davis (full disclosure, we have funded some of his work). His blog, The Niche, is one of the longest-running blogs about regenerative medicine and an especially great resource for those without a science background.
More importantly, in 2021 Dr. Knoepfler launched SCOPE, an outreach effort to make available on the internet a basic page of facts about stem cells in as many languages as possible. What started with “Stem Cells in Spanish” has quickly transformed into a stem cell white paper now available in 35 different languages!
Naturally, I wasted no time and sent the Farsi version to my parents and the French one to my francophone mother-in-law. And it isn’t just me who is finding this information useful. Dr. Knoepfler says, “SCOPE has been a big hit and as the number of languages has grown, the number of page views of my white paper ‘What are stem cells?’ in languages besides English has skyrocketed. For example, just our Stem Cells in Spanish page has received over 680,000 views as of the first half of 2021, while our Indonesian page has over 300,000 views and our Arabic page has a quarter of a million. We are getting readers from all over the world who appreciate reading about stem cells in their own languages.”