Candler Cusato

Blog 1 Entry:

Hi, my name is Candler Cusato, and I am rising senior at Los Alamitos High School in Orange County. But, more importantly, I am one of eight high school research interns selected to participate in seven weeks of stem cell research funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. For the next two months, I will be exploring the progression of retinal degeneration and stem cell-based therapies to combat blindness in the millions of patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa and age related macular dystrophy, under the direction of Dr. Shaomei Wang of the Regenerative Medicine Institute, and this is the account of my first few days as an intern in a state-of-the-art scientific lab!

After waking at 5:45 AM and braving the daily 405 shuffle to get to Cedars from Long Beach, I arrived on Monday morning and immediately fell back into my usual pattern of rapid note taking during biology lectures, as program director Dr. Virginia Mattis gave us an introductory lecture on stem cells. With her help, my eyes only slightly widened when I reached the lab later that afternoon and everyone uttered acronyms, such as IPSC’s, IVF, FDSC’s, with practically every breath. Luckily, they fed us pizza to keep our heads from spinning, and I went home feeling proud but slightly cross-eyed, after I spent my afternoon gazing into the microscope and successfully removing rat lenses and corneas.

Tuesday morning, after the slight hiccup of waiting for the wrong elevator for approximately 10 minutes, I was immediately whisked into a meeting between Dr. Wang and her outgoing intern, and I listened attentively to their conversation on how human cell injections influenced rat RPE production in the retina. Searching, as all scientists do, for more data, we all journeyed into the lab and examined the retinal slides tagged with various fluorescents to show the distinction between cell types, seeing first hand how the injection of foreign cells significantly decreased retinal pigment epithelium. By the end of the day, I had also helped feed and change the medium in the lab’s neurosphere cultures, which I learned will soon become my full responsibility, and journeyed down to Third Street to discover the wonders of Somma Somma, a Chipotle-style Mediterranean restaurant.

Wednesday morning, after a long conversation with my mentor about my life and college plans, I went to work preparing slides and examining them under the microscope to search for folds in our eye section samples, easily able to be ruined since they are only millimeters thick. With help from the post-baccalaureate intern, Alice, I was able to identify the layers of the retina, as she walked me through their usual structures and appearances under the microscope after being stained with cresyl violet. Thursday, I continued my work in staining, learning the complex and ten-step process that ensures my hard work does not go to waste and my slide contents can be seen under the microscope. Although my first batch was too light, I eventually was able to view my specimens, and to my immense relief, they were identifiable as retinal cells. Score!

In days at Cedars so far, I have been surrounded by unparalleled friendliness and pursuit of knowledge for the overall benefit of mankind. My time here, although brief, has already yielded a new understanding of eye structure, disorders, and laboratory techniques crucial to my success in my future undergraduate studies. If this week is any indication, I am confident that I will leave in August with a newfound appreciation and understanding of scientific research and the preparedness to undertake a career in the scientific field.




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