This summer has been one of the greatest experiences I have had so far thanks to the CIRM internship program. I have learned so much about stem cells and how they become other cells. This summer I specifically focused on the development of T cells from stem cells and how those T cells become different variants of themselves. For example a naive T cell, meaning a T cell without a defined purpose, has the possibility to become a Th1 or a Th2 cell. Although these two names seem similar, they target completely different pathogens or in other words a particle that is harmful to the body. Th1 on one hand focusses on storing information of infections of the past in its memory and when that pathogen arrives again in the body the Th1 uses that stored memory to tell other cells how to react. On the other hand, Th2 cells focus mainly on the body’s immediate defense to bacteria or other pathogens. It only acts in the moment, unlike the patient Th1 cell.
What I also learned about this summer is a structure I never heard about before within RNA. This structure is called MicroRNA, and its purpose is to downregulate, lower, the production of protein with a cell. This summer I was focusing on which genes are affected by microRNA, specifically on MicroRNA 29, because it has been shown to have effects on T cell development and it affects what path the T cell will grow into.
Overall this summer has been one of the greatest I have ever had because I got to learn so much about the immune system and how stem cells play a role in that process. And I also learned the amazing structure that is Micro RNA and it purpose. Having learned so much during the summer I am grateful to have had this experience and to learn so much from it.
When I was seven, I remember looking up at the stars, I stared hard at the moon through my car window, thinking that it only revolves around me as it followed me home. I later learned in class that we rotate around the sun, as gravity holds the spinning planets in place, simultaneously, the moon revolves around the earth. Out of nowhere, I abruptly felt an actual light bulb switched on above my head once I learned how day and night came. Overcome with curiosity,“ Where did the Big Bang take place? When will my Big Bang happen?”
My interest dissipated as I entered into my high school career. I was struck with incoherence, an inconsistency to my thoughts, as I leaned my shoulder against the wall—for I had already decided to let my fatigue to take over. I felt lacking, unconfident in my abilities even to solve a simple balance chemical equation in chemistry class. Science was not my forte. I could never see myself working in a lab setting.
Still, a spark within me still held onto that childhood curiosity of mine. I remember sitting on the bus on my way to school reading about stem cells, which were fascinating to me. We can use these little cells for so many scientific research.
My Big Bang unfolded when I was accepted into the UCSF SEP internship program. I
studied the human-specific population of cortical neural stem cells and evaluated the signaling mechanisms that govern the formation of their identity. Through my performance, I am also contributing to this phenomenal study, helping my community by potentially providing information to help cure mental illnesses. At times, the results of our data did not come out as we wanted it to be. The staining went wrong, and the images were lacking. I would have to repeat the experiment or troubleshoot on the spot continually. However, it's all a learning process. Even if I do get beautiful image stainings, I still need to repeat the experiments to confirm my results.
Learning was not the only side that is needed under this program. CIRM encouraged us to share our internship experiences on social media. I posted once a week on my studies, what I’ve learned, and how I could teach my viewers about this new research I am performing. I remember in one of the first few meetings we had, where we had to share our research with our peers, “ I can actually understand your studies,” a friend of mine claimed.
I felt powerful, in a sense, that I was able to communicate my knowledge to others to help them understand and teach my study. When I talk to my family and friends about my summer, I feel confident in my ability to comprehend these complex ideas. I could see myself researching, engineering, and fighting for a solution. I want to find the best form of gene therapy, and map each neuron of the brain. Through this two month program, science has become a new passion for me, a cornerstone of my new academic pursuits. It strengthened my theoretical knowledge and gave me an experience where I witnessed the real world laboratory setting. Not only did I learn the fundamental techniques of immunohistochemistry and microscopy, but I was able to receive encouraging advice from the scientists in the Kriegsteins lab and especially my mentor, Madeline Andrews. The experience in a lab comforted me by the idea of the never-ending changes that lured me to a world of thought and endless potential.
This summer has been an interesting one. Having the opportunity to study in a world-renowned school like UCSF is big for me. None of my family went to college. It makes me feel as if I’m on the right path. Working in the lab was just as much fun as it was struggle and frustration. During the experience, I did love learning about different subjects of science but I don’t think I could work in a lab for the rest of my life. This experience is something I’m grateful for because I got to not only be here but discovered more about the science career pathway. I’ve also learned a bit more about myself as well. I discovered that I do have a lot of self-doubt along with the fact that I hate not being able to be good at something immediately. It taught me patience. I had a lot of identity crisis while I was here. I’m a half black half samoan woman at UCSF. I don’t see a lot of black folks here. I definitely don’t see any polynesian people here. However, I’m here and there is no reason why I shouldn’t be.