2016 CIRM SPARK Blogs

2016 CIRM SPARK Blogs

Adriana Millan – Lifeline Education Charter School, Compton, CA

As children, we all grew up with the companionship of our favorite television shows. We enjoyed sitcoms and other animations throughout our childhood and even as adults, there’s no shame. The goofy and spontaneous skits we enjoyed a laugh over, yet we did not pay much attention to the lessons they attempted to teach us. As a child, these shows play crucial roles in our educational endeavors. We are immediately hooked and tune in for every episode. They spark curiosity, as they allow our imaginations to run wild. For me, that is exactly where my curiosity stemmed and grew for science over the years. A delusional young girl, who had no idea what the reality of science was like.

You expect to enter a lab and run a full day of experimentations. Accidentally mix the wrong chemicals and discover the cure for cancer. Okay, maybe not mix the incorrect chemicals together, I learned that in my safety training class. The reality is that working in a lab was far from what I expected — eye opening. Working alongside my mentor Sarah Frail was one of the best ways I have spent a summer. It was not my ideal summer of sleeping in until noon, but it was worthwhile.

My experience is something that is a part of me now. I talk about it every chance I get, “Mom, can you believe I passaged cells today!” It changed the way I viewed the principles of science. Science is one of the most valuable concepts on this planet, it’s responsible for everything and that’s what I have taken and construed from my mentor. She shared her passion for science with me and that completed my experience. Before when I looked at cells, I did not know exactly what I was supposed to observe. What am I looking at? What is that pink stuff you are adding to the plate?

However, now I feel accomplished. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride, with complications along the way, but I can say that I’m leaving this experience with a new passion. I am not just saying this to please the audience, but to express my gratitude. I would have never even looked into Huntington’s Disease. When I first arrived I was discombobulated. Huntington’s Disease? Now I can proudly say I have a grasp on the complexity of the disease and not embarrass my mentor my calling human cells bacteria – quite embarrassing in fact. I’m a professional pipette handler, I work well in the hood, I can operate a microscope – not so impressive, I have made possibly hundreds of gels, I have run PCRs, and my cells love me, what else can I ask for.

If you are questioning what career path you are to take and even if it is the slightest chance it may be a course in science, I suggest volunteering in a lab. You will leave with your questioned answered. Is science for me? This is what I am leaving my experience with. Science is for me.

Adriana was a recipient of the 2016 CIRM SPARK best blog award.


Juleny Dueñez – Animo Leadership Charter High School, Inglewood, CA

This internship has been a great and wonderful experience throughout. I am very fortunate enough to have received this opportunity and I am glad to have taken advantage of it. Being able to learn at this level of research under many great people with different experiences has been a highlight of my summer. What I loved the most about my internship at the California Institute of Technology was that I was able to learn very hands on with many great scientist. I was not only focused on one aspect or idea but I got to see a wide spectrum of work from many innovative and influential people. I really enjoyed learning under all of my mentors and being able to learn about innovative work that goes on daily and could change many people’s lives. Being in a lab where I was not limited to learning under one person was extraordinary. It was truly a privilege to work with all of the amazing researches and astounding postdocs and listen to what they were working on and take their advice. I got a true sense of what life as a true researcher consist of. Learning during lectures and then putting my knowledge to use was also something I looked forward to daily. I enjoyed learning different concepts and techniques like transfection and differentiation and then being able to practice how to complete these ideas. With my mentor by my side teaching and helping me to do things step by step with protocols made me feel confident and helped me learn much better. I built many trusting and good relationships not only with my mentor but many others that helped me gain experience not only with stem cells but making solutions and even viewing others work and progress. From this experience I learned many things about careers in research. I learned that being a researcher is a lot of dedication and perseverance. Being a researcher is difficult work and that can involve days of uncertain results or even failed experiments. A researcher’s schedule almost never goes as planned and can take a huge turn of events. Although sometimes frustrating to many of the researchers in the lab it was really inspiring to watch them never give up and continue to diligently work very hard for their goal. This experience overall has made me consider becoming a researcher. Although I am more interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, it has broadened my views over scientific work and has made me consider research overall.

I enjoyed this program throughout its entirety, it was a helpful experience for me and my career choices but also for giving me the experience and preparing me for college/university which my parents and sister can agree on. My parents and sister were very supportive of me throughout this whole internship. They were all very excited for me and every day ask me about my experiences and what I learned. They would ask me to take pictures of my work and the campus I was on to show them. My sister was very happy for me when I received news that I was going to be on the Caltech campus and told me she was very proud of how involved I was and the steps I was taking on my own to gain experience to continue onto a post-secondary education of my interest. She was impressed and glad that I was reaching beyond my abilities at such a young age and taking advantage of opportunities she wish she had when she was younger.

This program helped me learn a lot about myself and realize that there are many more career possibilities within the science spectrum. I very much enjoyed this experience and would most definitely encourage everyone to be a part of the CIRM SPARKS internship. I personally have gained a lot of knowledge not only about being a researcher but also about how capable I am to be on my own. I am very appreciative of the CIRM program for the hard work that they do to build and establish internships like these for eager students like myself. These are the internships that inspire people to move on to pursue more for themselves and their education.


Andrea Rodriguez – Animo Leadership Charter High School, Inglewood, CA

This internship experience was overall extraordinary; it was an amazing opportunity that I am glad I took advantage of. Many students my age do not have the chance to be exposed to the life of a scientific researcher and I enjoyed many aspects of it. What I enjoyed most about my time as an intern here at Caltech was the amazing level of hands on experience I was able to receive. We would have a lecture about a procedure and then later the same day put our knowledge to practice. My mentor walked me step by step through many protocols and allow us to follow it ourselves. But even when we were simply shadowing scientists, our days were filled with many learning opportunities because, not only was I surrounded by Scientists, all at different places in their careers, but I had the opportunity to assist many of them with their research. Weather it was learning to make solutions, or viewing their cells under a microscope for counting, it was truly an honor to listen to their experiences and advice. I enjoyed everyone I worked with and the tons of knowledge I gained from working in the lab and attending lectures. I got a true sense of what life as a true researcher may consist of. From my 8 week experience, I think it is appropriate for me to say that life as a researcher is very unexpected. Their schedule is really dependent on their cells and research. It was humorous to hear that many of the scientist in my lab were coming in at midnight and on weekends. It is a career that takes a lot of dedication and time and it is not at all easy. This may be the only thing I did not completely enjoy, a lot of the time my schedule was dependent on how my cells reacted and, the way they reacted I had no control over. But even with this constantly playing a major role on the everyday lives of these researchers, it was really heartwarming to witness how much each scientist was dedicated and truly devoted to their work, these people really inspired me to consider a career in the researching field.

With the basic knowledge and skills that I have developed over the last 8 weeks, I definitely am motivated to learn more and have already started reaching out to people who may help with this. I think it will be a great experience to work in a lab or assist in a lab while in college. And my family agrees. I would enjoy going home every day and explaining to my family what I did in the lab. Even though my family does not understand most of what I was saying, they loved to hear me ramble about cells, and antibodies, and transfection. My parents are both impressed at the idea of my doing such interesting things at such a young age, my father even brags about me to his co-workers. It may have been really convenient that he did so because I now know that one of his co-worker’s sister has a lab of her own and may be interested in teaching me more.

Although as of right now I am still more interested in joining the medical field, this was a really helpful experience to have at my age. It made me realize and identify some key things I would enjoy in a working environment, and also further prepared me for college and beyond. I would definitely recommend the CIRM SPARKS internship experience for high schoolers. And I want to thank CIRM for their hard work and all they do to make these types of experiences possible.


Maria Patlan- Lifeline Education Charter School, Compton, CA

Growing up we see tv shows that broadcast people in laboratories doing insane experiments. You don’t imagine all those things actually happening in a lab, but they do. In the lab there are daily experiments being performed to prove the hypothesis. Watching animated characters on a television gave me the initial curiosity to focus on research and I was given the opportunity by

my high school principal, Mr. Nartey, our program director Dr. Fox and our sponsor, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

As a participant in the CIRM Sparks program I have learned the value of stem cell research. Doing research means being dedicated and 100 percent invested in what you are doing. The time I spent at Caltech was astonishing and rewarding. While at the Khoshnan lab, I studied Huntington’s disease and the possibility of discovering the contributors to the spread of the disease. Huntington’s disease is an autosomal dominant mutation in a gene called Huntingtin. The Huntingtin gene provides the genetic information for a protein called “huntingtin”. Expansion of CAG (cytosineadenineguanine) triplet repeats in the gene coding for the Huntingtin protein. The disease causes patients to experience cognitive, motor, and physiological symptoms. There is currently no cure and limited treatments for the symptoms.

I come from a community where science isn’t a priority. Entering the lab was one of the most profound moments of my life. Being greeted by senior researcher Ali Khoshnan and introduced to my mentor Jack Lloyd made the moment more surreal. As we set up my bench adjacent to his Jack explained to me the responsibilities of being an intern in a lab and what I was going to be doing there. As a novice in the lab I was eager to prove myself and start my experiments, but first I needed to get trained for the hazards of being in a lab. Day one after being a fully trained intern, I started growing my stem cells. My mentor, Jack, works with exosomes and is conducting a series of experiments to prove prion hypothesis. He believes that exosomes work as prions to infect healthy neurons with mHTT. My project involves creating neurospheres from these diseased mouse embryonic stem cells (MESCs) and the control parent cell line before it was mutated. With the help of my mentor I will assess the ability of the neurospheres to generate new neurons. The number of viable neurons within the spheres will be assessed by cell counting and viability assays. This contributed to the research because we used the information to conduct separate experiments relevant to what Jack was working on.

After weeks of coming to Caltech, our time is coming close to an end. Among the various things I will miss from Pasadena, the heat won’t be one of them.

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