Sophia Chertock

Blog Entry 1:

After a grueling application process, months of anxious knee-bouncing, several hours of orientation/safety training, and a decade-long fascination, the day to start my CIRM-funded research internship had finally arrived. The only obstacle standing in my way was a rooted, menacing door. Then, with just the flick of a wrist and the green flash of an ID badge scanner, the complex and promising world of regenerative medicine was unveiled to me. Under the guidance of my mentor and PI, Zulma Gazit, PhD, and the rest of her gregarious, eclectic team, I embarked on a journey that first, pivotal day (four days ago) to investigate bone and tendon regeneration using stem cell therapies, and integrate RM research into the rest of my professional future.

As Zulma and her research papers have been teaching me this past week, certain severe types of both ligament and bone injuries are not being treated optimally as of yet, resulting in drastic, costly, consequences, including immune rejection, repeated surgeries, long-term hospitalization, and prolonged patient suffering. The Gazit Lab, in cooperation with some long-distance co-authors from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem whom I met in a video meeting, aims to utilize mesenchymal stem cells – which can differentiate into cartilage, bone, and fat – to repair lost tissue the regenerative way.

To my complete and utter astonishment, a real research laboratory is in fact NOT like those found in high school biology and chemistry classrooms. Who knew?! Without the faintest inkling of what was going on, I thankfully had Shiran Ben-David – the kindest, most patient research associate – to guide me through each step of various processes. So far, she has instructed me in everything from harvesting human bone marrow cells on alginate beads to walking to the on-campus Starbucks for an emergency mocha frappuccino.

I’d actually appeared at a pretty significant moment in the scheme of a current project: Shiran was preparing mouse mesenchymal stem cells that contained active Smad8 – a protein that regulates gene expression – for implantation in rats’ injured Achilles tendons. First, she stained the cells with iron particles. Then, came lifting them from the sticky, plastic culture plate with the digestive enzyme Trypsin. After that came my favorite part: the Countess™. This mind-boggling machine could count cells numbering in the millions INSTANTLY, noting which were alive, which were dead, and their viability rate. After adding a collagen scaffold and aliquoting (dividing equally) the cells into five Eppendorf tubes (see image), Shiran and I walked the cells over to another building, where Wafa Tawackoli, Ph.D., the Technical Director of the Imaging Core Facility, and the orthopedic surgeon would meet us. The best surprise of the week was that I was allowed to watch the rat surgeries! For someone who’s never dissected anything, this was truly an unfamiliar and stimulating experience. Seven days after the cells were implanted, I will observe how the cell viability is evaluated using imaging techniques.   

Already, I’ve increased my knowledge of biomedical research a hundredfold, and this was in the first four days alone! I’m delighted to uncover what the lab has in store for me, happy to eat bagels and cream cheese after weekly meetings with the whole Gazit fleet, and honored to walk among scores of the top scientists in regenerative medicine until the impending senior year. So yeah, I’d say I’m about to have a pretty cool summer.

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