Hector Medrano

Final Blog Entry:

Never, not even in my wildest of dreams, would I have pictured myself, a HIGH SCHOOL student, working in a state-of-the-art laboratory, in one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. To this day, I stand in amazement as I reflect upon the past five weeks I have spent in and out of the laboratory. From attending weekly lectures, to performing hands-on procedures, this summer has allowed me to gain great insight into the world of research.


Working alongside my mentors, I have learned to perform numerous laboratory practices, as immunocytochemistry, bacterial transformations, cell cultures and differentiations, and western blots. Every day I entered the laboratory, I was excited to leave. I knew that every day I left the laboratory, I would leave with much more knowledge than that with which I entered. Questioning every step my mentors completed when working on their experiments, allowed me to visualize the reasoning for such in greater context. The goal of each of my mentors is to learn something new. With the discovery of even the most minuscule details, we come one step closer to taking our research to a patient’s bedside. Witnessing the endless work they each perform, and the joy with which it is executed, has engrained in me why we perform research: for the potential benefit of our patients.


Outside of the laboratory, my experiences were equally amazing. Whether it be a lecture, tour, or talk, each provided a unique learning opportunity. The most memorable, however, was the tour of the pathology and microbiology laboratories. Observing the Clinical Laboratory Scientists perform countless different tests on hundreds of patients at one time, while maintaining a large smile across all of their faces, was truly inspiring.


For such amazing opportunities I must first thank the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. With the creation of the Summer Program to Accelerate Regenerative Medicine Knowledge, students as myself have gained opportunities to delve into research, through tactile, laboratory experiences. Following, I must thank Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for hosting a SPARK cohort, but most importantly, my program coordinators, for their constant hard work toward making our experience the best it could be. Last, but definitely not least, I must thank my laboratory mentors. Without the numerous questions they answered, techniques/procedures they taught, and guidance they provided, my internship would not have been as memorable as it was.


Participating in this internship was a true blessing, which I will forever remember as the best high school summer – he writes, helplessly shedding a few tears.

Emma Friedenberg

Final Blog Entry:

The last weeks of the CIRM SPARK internship program are bittersweet; I am both sad it’s ending and newly invigorated from the encouragement of my mentors and what I have witnessed of the possibilities of stem cells. I am also so excited to present at Cedars-Sinai’s Poster Day as all as the City of Hope Conference.

This program has become a dream-come-true and I am so thankful to have had the privilege of being a part of it. A big ‘thank you’ to CIRM, Shagun, Pranav, Dr. Virginia Mattis, and all the others who have dedicated their time to this program.

This week has been a push to get my poster done for the City of Hope Conference, finishing the last counts after immunocytochemistry and imaging on the Leica scope, writing the methodology and conclusion sections, and pulling figures – images and graphs – to exemplify the results. I also have had the opportunity to perform RNA isolation, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), and attend ‘Knowledge Noshes’ to hear doctors and other medical professionals speak about their experiences and current research.

Today is a perfect example of a busy day! In the morning, we had an educational course on clinical trials with director of the ALS clinic, Peggy. During which we had a few exercises: to take part in our own clinical trial of “normal” teenage grip strength using a dynamometer grip and averaging the results, and also to create our own clinical trial. My clinical trial asked the question “Does virtual reality (VR) therapy improve cognitive function in neurodegenerative diseases labeled MCI (mild cognitive impairment), in particular Huntington’s Disease – which is the focus of my lab. Other MCI diseases include down syndrome, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. It was inspiring to see so many young scientists ask real-life questions for possible clinical trials: do vaccines cause birth defects? Are prescribed diet pills more effective than over-the-counter diet pills in an obese population? How does television effect the intelligence of children over time?

Later, I met with my mentor, Dr. Mattis, to discuss data for my poster.

It has been a pleasure to intern at Cedars-Sinai in the Regenerative Medicine Institute. The knowledge I have acquired through this experience – working in a wet lab, basic neuroscience, and the hospital environment – is priceless. I hope to continue my passion for medicine and one day return the favor.

Dennis Portillo

Final Blog Entry

With this, my summer as a CIRM/SPARK intern is nearly over, with everything happening in a blink of an eye. My first ever experience in a laboratory has been like no other, one of which was full of laughs, with few low points to compliment all the highs. Research has always been something I’ve wanted to do since the beginning of my high school career, with this giving me a taste of an entirely different career path from those previously exposed to me before. Scientists, from what I’ve seen, are all dedicated to their work which at times may not always reciprocate in terms of results, yet they still continue to repeat the process the next day. What many have no experienced firsthand is that, by definition, that is what research truly is. At times repeating the experiments and data, all the work is then supplemented by curiosity to explore and discover information that most may never have heard of. For me at least, entering as a high school student, much of what I have learned here has been a new experience that hopefully won’t be the last. The work that I have done is no exception to that, having to do redo several aspects of it, at times taking longer than expected. However, even on days where it didn’t go to plan, I’ve enjoyed every second of it. Echoing the words of my mentors, even the greatest make mistakes, with all of that being part of the learning curve.


Despite still only getting to taste a fraction of what the world of research is, I’m more than grateful to have gotten to meet so many people and establish connections that will extend beyond this summer. From fellow interns, both high school and college, to the people in my lab, most notably Nur and Veronica; without them my summer would not have been the same. Being able to meet everyone has been the most memorable part, with everyone fitting a piece of a giant puzzle. I cannot thank them enough, as well as the opportunity to spend my summer in a lab environment, which is its own respective family. With stem cells being the new hype around the world of science, not many people can boast to have worked with them. From taking pictures (albeit it is harder than it sounds), to staining, to even learning how to pipet (yes there is a science to it too), this has been a first for everything, and as stated before, hopefully won’t be the last.

Candler Cusato

Final Blog Entry:

It is staggering to realize that, as I write this, I am nearing the end of my time here at Cedars-Sinai. Over the past six weeks, I have grown immensely, not only as a scientist but also as an individual, and I would not trade this experience for anything. I experienced moments of great triumph, like when my mentor told me that the whole mount I cut looked like it could be in a textbook, and moments of tribulation where I became frustrated and feared that I wouldn’t have any data at all. I’ve confronted fears, learned how to interact with individuals who don’t necessarily think the way I do, and understand more about the retina now than I even knew existed. Through this program, I’ve learned that what science is mostly about, behind the pipettes and beakers, is accepting the overwhelming amount of failure it can take to have one small success and doing what you can to turn things around. Intellect will only take you so far; it’s dedication, persistence, and problem solving that truly are the backbone of all great discoveries. And, it’s apparent that these traits run rampant at Cedars.


In my time here, everyone I have met, from research associates to primary investigators to my fellow interns, has inspired me with their desire to make a difference and willingness to sacrifice their time (and sometimes their sanity) for the benefit of mankind. Although something as simple as making slides or measuring the length of the retina may seem tedious, all these individuals wholeheartedly understand that even these small steps bring them closer to changing a life. These philanthropic values were what drew me to science and medicine in the first place, and thanks to the reinforcement this experience provided, they are what will keep me engaged in the field for years to come.


My experience with CIRM SPARK would not have been complete without a few key individuals, so I have to express my gratitude here. I am immensely grateful to my mentor, Dr. Shaomei Wang, for not only teaching me so much about the profession but also for creating a positive environment that never made me afraid to ask questions or receive clarification on something. And, this warmth extended to everyone who I had the pleasure of working with in the lab. Lin, Lu Bin, Ben, and Alice all took hours of time out of their busy schedules to help train me and provide any insights that I needed to be successful, and I am extremely appreciative of their hospitality. This summer, I also had the pleasure of working alongside Amanda, an undergraduate intern from Brown University, who quickly became my closest friend in the lab. Without fail, we ate lunch together everyday, made frequent iced coffee runs, and bonded over everything from cat cafes to dilutions. I am so thankful for her companionship over these last weeks and her willingness to humor all of the high school students by answering our questions about college, which were practically endless. And, at last, I would like to thank my fellow CIRM SPARK interns, who represent some of the best and brightest students I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I will reflect fondly on all of the memories we’ve shared together, and I am anxious to hear all of the wonderful things I am sure you all will accomplish in years to come.


In short, although this summer originally appeared to be just a trial run in scientific research at first glance, I gained so much more than that. In my short time here, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the kindest and most dedicated individuals the field has to offer, and I will be immensely lucky if my future career in the sciences continues along the same trajectory.


Sophia Chertock

Final Blog Entry:
At seven, I sat, captivated by my teacher’s depictions of the the body systems. A career in medicine has been my ultimate dream ever since. Once I caught wind of stem cells and their seemingly limitless potential a few years later, it almost seemed like fate.
Not too long from now, if you snap your arm in two while mountain biking, or tear up your Achilles playing soccer, or feel the beginnings of osteoarthritis in your fingers as your hands glide across the keys (computer or piano), have no fear: a “simple” implantation of stem cells will fix you up, good as new. Bone, cartilage, and tendon regeneration using stem cell therapies are the main focuses of the Gazit Lab at the Regenerative Medicine Institute, Cedars-Sinai, and I’ve been so incredibly lucky to become a part of their world this summer.
I’ve grown accustomed to the gentle buzz of incubators, the textured fit of nitrile gloves hugging my fingers, and the feeling of being surrounded by dedicated scientists, whose work will one day reinvent patient care as we know it.  As I return to school, I hope that my respite between working in labs is VERY short-lived.
Looking back, I was embarrassingly nervous to start that first day, fearing that I was in for weeks of spilling deadly chemicals, killing populations of cells crucial to our research, and feeling bewildered by unintelligible science-y jargon. I know now that these premonitions could not have been further from the truth.
My weeks were filled with meticulous breakdowns of the Gazit Lab’s project history by my mentor, Zulma Gazit, PhD, one of the busiest people I’ve met, and who generously spent several hours a week training me in the regenerative medicine field – and facing off against my bombardment of questions. These days were filled with observations of procedures and tours of facilities I’d never imagined gaining access to as a high schooler, like the animal surgeries of the inspiring Wafa Tawackoli, PhD, or the impressive Biobank. And mostly, they were filled with hands-on work in the lab with Shiran Ben-David, the encouraging and attentive RA. This I found both instructive and rewarding, from the most basic of culturing and RT-PCR to the complex bioluminescent imaging analysis.
There were two main takeaways I learned this summer that I’ll bring into any lab or classroom I find myself in next:
1. Biomedical research is a long, demanding process, and no matter how hard you may try, breakthroughs don’t just “happen” (That is, unless you’re Alexander Fleming, you leave your culture plates stacked on the desk for a couple of days, and you return to discover penicillin in one of them). For the most part, it’s all about patience and persistence. You make progress by asking a ton of questions, ruling out debunked hypotheses, altering each possibly significant variable, and repeating. Often for 30+ years.
2. Teamwork is the way to go. Most of the labs here have one or two PI’s, RA’s, administrative assistants, talented PhD students, and some research interns, and each unique specialty is vital to the success of the project or publication – and making the job more fun.
To Zulma, Shiran, Wafa, Xiaoyu, Dan, Ginger, CIRM, the Cedars-Sinai Minors in Research Program, and my fellow SPARK interns: Thank you so much for taking the time to help me grow as a scientist. I’m sad to leave this warm and supportive environment, but all of the valuable lab habits, stem cell basics, and life lessons I’ve learned, as well as the whiff of pungent isopropanol, are forever ingrained in my mind.

“…it made me feel like a real scientist because not everything that they do works out. Only thing left to do is try, try again.”

By: Maya Golob 

I have nearly completed my fifth week of my CIRM SPARK research internship at Cedars-Sinai! This week has been crazy busy with tours. We visited the blood donor facilities, transfusion medicine center, special testing lab, molecular biology core, pathology, and more! These tours opened my eyes to the research that goes on outside my lab. In my lab, many of our materials needed for experiments seem like they just appear on the lab bench, but in these tours I got to see where everything comes from.

One memorable thing from this week is the drastic change in my cells from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning. I have been taking care of a line of induced pluripotent stem cells with the hopes of differentiating them towards lung endoderm. So far, I successfully differentiated them to anterior primitive streak and then to definitive endoderm. On Monday, I passaged my cells (meaning that I changed their media, washed them, and split them from one to two wells). They looked happy as ever as I was leaving work on Monday. The next morning, I went to check on them with my mentor, and all of my cells had died and none of them attached to the matrigel on the plate!

At first, this really crushed my spirits because these cells were for my poster presentation. But after brainstorming everything that could have gone wrong, it made me think that this is what real science is. Sometimes, things can go wrong even if you followed every step on the protocol perfectly. In a way, it made me feel like a real scientist because not everything that they do works out. Only thing left to do is try, try again.

“…I’ve been immersed in the lively world of planning and carrying out biomedical research, mirroring my mentors and assimilating the intricacies of the field.”

By Sophia Chertock

“Alright, Sophie, watch me carefully as I perform this suture, and you can do the next one. OK?” Wafa Tawackoli, PhD, joked. As he carefully implanted an allograft (which had been seeded with porcine adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells, or pig fat stem cells) into the first mouse, I stood in awe. Never in my life had I witnessed something so delicate, so risky happening (unless you count my wisdom teeth removal, during which I was rendered unconscious). The cells that Shiran, research assistant at the Gazit Lab, and I had spent weeks painstakingly preparing were finally being ectopically implanted into mice – i.e., placed into a part of the body that normally does not grow these mesenchymal cells. And these weren’t just any mesenchymal cells, these we specifically treated to overexpress Brachyury, the cartilage-creating gene. Ectopic implantation is a regulatory preliminary step for any new stem cell research project: before you demonstrate that a population of stem cells can regenerate a certain tissue, you must first prove that the stem cells can proliferate at all. By implanting this stem cell-coated allograft piece in a mouse’s back, we expect to see a growth of cartilage begin to form, distinguishable from what is naturally seen in the spine’s joints and discs. From there, the lab will move on to the next step: regenerating damaged cartilage. The end goal is to cure osteoarthritis, the most common cause of disability among adults.

These last several weeks, I’ve been immersed in the lively world of planning and carrying out biomedical research, mirroring my mentors and assimilating the intricacies of the field. At times, working with ailments in dishes and animals can seem to remove you from the overall objective. Why do we nucleofect the cells with GFP, a green marker that won’t even make it into the murine models? Why do we have to wash the pelleted cells with PBS and centrifuge over and over? As I’ve been executing all these complex procedures, such as cell lifting, alginate bead preparation, and reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reactions, the overarching intentions somewhat float away from the forefront of my mind–I must instead concentrate on completing the task at hand (with maximum cell viability and zero contamination!). But then, I remember what I’m doing this all for, and I’m hit with a wave of understanding. Down the line, some seemingly obscure protocol is crucial to future cartilage regeneration and osteoarthritis therapies, and can potentially help alleviate the pain and restore functional ability in the hands and legs of millions. Pick any disease or injury currently lacking a cure–without a doubt, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of unseen researchers working day and night to produce a treatment. Each time a paper is published detailing some new breakthrough, that’s just the tip of the iceberg–left unpublished are the late hours upon hours of work spent under the biological hood, the entire communities moving step-by-step together to redefine various branches of patient care. This week, we, the interns, toured various hospital facilities, such as the Core Lab and Microbio Lab, each one with the sole purpose of identifying conditions ASAP for which a patient might have to be treated. Many may not ever realize how vital these facilities are, but without our health, we have nothing!

So, while each complex chemical detail of cell culturing may seem in and of itself, it’s important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of all biomedical science, as in the Gazit lab, is to improve or cure impairments in the human condition. Without all those minute movements, there’d be no giant leaps.

“… I have grown motivated and determined to pursue a career in the sciences, but more importantly, to have my work make a difference in the world.”

By: Hector Medrano

In a mere blink of an eye, four weeks have passed since I first stepped foot in the laboratory, and dove straight into the experimentation that is being conducted under my wonderful mentor, Dr. Vaithi Arumugaswami. Over the course of the past four weeks, I have worked alongside each of my laboratory members, witnessing the unique approach they each put forth toward tackling healthcare’s greatest challenges. Reflecting upon my time in the laboratory, I can proudly assert that I was placed in one of the best laboratories at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute. Such certainty is derived from the numerous hours that my fellow laboratory members have taken out of their terribly busy schedules to instruct me on how to perform different procedures while explaining the science behind their experiments. What was most exciting was when I was given my own plate of 25i induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), further allowing me to learn how to properly coat six- well plates with Matrigel, plate and clean the cells, change their media, and split the cells after becoming too confluent. Each day, as I changed their media, and observed their confluency under a microscope, I stood astounded as I viewed the gradual development of these cells. However, my experiences did not end there, as I was able to attend several conferences with renowned speakers, classes with professionals in their field, and tour world class facilities. For such memorable/breathtaking experiences, I must thank Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, as well as the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, for providing a program where high school students are exposed to groundbreaking research. Observing the intricacies revolving around the world of research, and the passion and excitement with which my laboratory members come to work, I have grown motivated and determined to pursue a career in the sciences, but more importantly, to have my work make a difference in the world.

“This week was especially memorable – I feel like I learned so much!”

By: Soah Franklin

Week four of CIRM! I can’t believe we are already halfway through the program – it feels as if time is flying by. This week was especially memorable – I feel like I learned so much! On Monday I started my project, which I will present on Poster Day in a few weeks. I will be observing and documenting the effects of microRNA on corneal epithelial cells. I have been reading background information on many of the techniques that we will be using, like western blotting, immunostaining, and immunohistochemistry. The highlight of my week was observing tissue culture experiments, and learning about the process of coating the plates and seeding the corneal epithelial cells. Our lab is working with miR-146a, which has been shown to be involved in corneal epithelial homeostasis. This week we have been preparing my experiment: coating the culture plates with collagen and seeding one hundred thousand corneal epithelial cells per well in a 6-well plate. The cells will be transfected with miR-146a or the scramble miRNA as a control today. On Monday we will process the effect of miR-146a in the treated cells by immunostaining. I am so excited to see our results!