Hello from my first blog post! My name is Nikhil Chakravarty. I am an incoming senior at Granada Hills Charter High School. My mentor is Dr. Vaithi Arumugaswami. Starting this internship through the CIRM Spark Program has been amazing. However, although this feels like a dream comes true now, I do have to admit that I was quite nervous both coming into orientation and when walking into the laboratory. In both instances, I felt that I was about to encounter people who would not be afraid to leave me behind if I did not understand something. But, I must say – I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I discover that my seven colleagues were thinking just like me, but I was welcomed into the lab with open arms and was given several opportunities to expand my knowledge on the processes going on around me rather than simply watching it happen! The two students in my lab have already given me things to do to help them in their research and to prepare me for my own research. I have already watched the making of a gel for and the process of gel electrophoresis, a western blot, and an immunofluorescent assay in order to stain the cells.
So far, I have not really done much to pursue my own research, but my mentor and I have sat down to discuss the overarching theme of that work. We will be dealing with stem cell differentiation in the liver, specifically in the development of the bile duct with a genetic pressure. This genetic pressure leads to the fetus not developing or having an underdeveloped set of bile ducts. The goal of this project is to see whether it is possible to construct a bile duct from these cells. Obviously, this is still in vague terms, as I am still learning about stem cell differentiation and this specific genetic pressure. I feel that my primary goal in this program is to gain a strong understanding in the process of stem cell differentiation, different possibilities of stem cell therapies, and how to conduct proper research in a laboratory setting. I think that the opportunities presented through this program are really going to set all eight of us down a path towards success in the medical research field and that my mentor is going to give me invaluable lab experience that I doubt I could get nearly anywhere else. Having the ability to perform jobs pertinent to the experiments in the lab from the first day, as opposed to simply washing flasks or beakers for the students in the lab, has probably been the most pleasant surprise for me. While I did know that I would be performing research, I was shocked that they gave me actual bench work starting the first day.
This whole experience has exceeded all of my expectations and it has only been one day! I cannot wait to see what invaluable experiences I will gain throughout the rest of this program.