“…the knowledge I have acquired and the friendships I have already developed are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I cannot wait to continue my work in the weeks to come!”

By: Candler Cusato 

I can’t believe I’ve already been in the lab for two weeks; it sounds cliché, but time certainly does fly when you’re spending almost seven hours a day learning, experimenting, and meeting new friends. Overall, this week has been filled with simultaneous challenges and triumphs, stretching me as both a scientist and an individual, which I can’t wait to share.

After I toured more of the Cedars campus on Monday and Tuesday, I attempted the most challenging scientific technique I’ve ever been exposed to: retinal whole mounting. Over what seemed like days (but was probably only an hour and a half), I removed the cornea and lens from a rat eye under a microscope and detached the retina from the rest of the eye casing to mount it on a slide. This technique allows you to view the entire retina while preserving vascular and retinal structure in your specimen, which cannot be accomplished by other sectioning techniques that involve cutting tissue with a machine. To understand the difficulty of removing a PBS-soaked retina from the remains of an eye, I would compare it to trying to turn the pages of a soaked, 1000-year-old book without ripping the pages. In short, it is VERY difficult, and it will definitely take me much more tries to improve my technique.

Outside of the lab, I was thoroughly enthralled during my lunchtime learning sessions this week, which is humorously deemed “Knowledge Noshes,” particularly during the presentation by Dr. Robert Baloh, MD, Ph.D. His progress in creating gene and stem cell therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is truly fascinating, and his passion for the subject was palpable during his lighthearted but educational presentation. He peaked my curiosity in neurology so much that I am intrigued to explore more about the subject of neurodegenerative diseases and possibly pursue it in my future studies.

Also, this week, I gained a new laboratory companion, as Amanda, an intern from Brown University, arrived on Tuesday to join Dr. Wang’s lab. In just a few days, we’ve braved whole mounts together and suffered through the slow-loading microscope camera software while waiting to take photographs of retinas. With Dr. Wang’s help, we are on our way to perfecting our labeled retinal images in Photoshop and learning the various eye histology techniques and the intricate system of blood flow throughout the eye.

As this second week of CIRM Spark comes to a close, I feel even more fortunate that I was selected for this prestigious opportunity, as the knowledge I have acquired and the friendships I have already developed are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I cannot wait to continue my work in the weeks to come!

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